Prof Martin Knight
BEng, MSc, PhD, FHEA
Martin Knight’s research concerns the area of mechanobiology and mechanotransduction or how living cells and tissues ‘sense and respond’ to mechanical forces at a biological level and in terms of their biomechanical properties. This is essential for the health and functionality of many tissues and therefore has potential application in various medical therapies from tissue engineering and regenerative medicine to pharmaceuticals. A key priority is the development of 'organ-on-a-chip' in vitro models which incorporate the appropriate biomechanical stimuli to accurately replicate in vivo conditions within the human body. Studies are examining the role of mechanobiology in a variety of conditions including ageing, cancer, tendonopathy, inflammation and arthritis.
My current research splits into the following areas of mechanobiology and bioengineering:
Organ-on-a-Chip in vitro models
Further research activity is focussed on the development of organ-on-a-chip in vitro models with a particular focus on incorporation of appropriate biomechanical stimuli to replicate the physiological and pathological environment. This work includes a major European Research Council (ERC) funded programme CANBUILD which is using bioengineering techniques to grow a complete tumour microenvironment in the lab in order to understand cancer development and to test pharmaceutical treatments. Prok Knight is the co-director of the Organ-on-a-chip Technologies Network funded by MRC, EPSRC and BBSRC.
Primary Cilia Structure and Function
A particular focus of my research involves the role of primary cilia in mechanobiology. These fascinating cellular structures have been largely ignored, but have recently been shown to be involved in mechanosignalling although the mechanisms are not yet clear. Furthermore mechanical forces regulate the expression of cilia which in turn modulates other signalling pathways. My group are examining the relationship between cilia structure and function and how this is influenced by stem cell differentiation, disease, ageing and physicochemical stimuli.
Our group published the first paper showing that primary cilia are required for cartilage mechanotransduction and upregulation of proteoglycan synthesis (Wann et al. 2012a). We have also shown, for the first time, that primary cilia are involved in inflammatory signalling in response to cytokines such as interleukin-1 (Wann et al. 2012b; 2013; 2014). Further studies have shown how regulation of cilia length controls hedgehog signalling (Thompson et al. 2014; 2015; Prodromou et al. 2012), wnt signalling (McMurray et al. 2014), and growth factor signalling (Dalbay et al. 2015). Through understanding these fundamental behaviours and the effect of physicochemical stimuli we hope to have future impact in the development of ciliotherapies for treatment of disease and injury.
With collaborators at UCL, Leeds and Sheffield, I have set up the UK cilia network bringing together researchers with a common interest in cilia: www.cilianetwork.org.uk. Please contact me if you are interested in joining the UK cilia network.
Cell and Tissue Biomechanics and Mechanobiology
Cell biomechanics research examines the mechanical properties of living cells using techniques such as micropipette aspiration. My group is interested in the role of the cytoskeleton and interaction with the cell membrane. Other studies involve understanding the biomechanical properties of articular cartilage at a nanoscale and work on tumour mechanics.
I am actively seeking collaboration as well as incoming PhD students and research fellows through schemes such as the Marie Sklowdoska-Curie Fellowships.
I gratefully acknowledge research funding from the following institutions: