Personal profile



General Background:

I graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Medical Sciences from Bradford University in 1985 and was awarded a PhD from the University of Manchester in 1988 for research into disc degeneration and nerve root compression as a cause of low back pain. From this work arose papers describing the absence of classical inflammation when there was intervertebral disc prolapse, but highlighting a role for ischaemia and fibrosis resulting from local blood vessel compression. After gaining my PhD in 1988 I was then involved in developing new molecular techniques (in situ hybridisation and in situ PCR) that could be applied to tissues, predominantly bone and cartilage to investigate gene expression and disease pathogenesis in a variety of musculoskeletal disorders. Subsequently I was appointed lecturer in Molecular Pathology, senior lecturer in 1998 and Professor in 2007.


My past research has focused on the development of modern molecular technologies for application to the pathological study of disease mechanisms in human “hard” tissues (cartilage,  IVD, bone etc.). Currently my research group is applying these techniques to:

i) Investigate the cell  and matrix biology of normal (foetal , young and adult) and diseased  (degenerate) cervical  and lumbar intervertebral discs  (IVD) in order to develop  clinically  viable novel  cell based (adult  stem cells) tissue engineering/ regenerative medicine therapies for the degenerate IVD (a major cause of low back pain);

ii) Study adult mesenchymal stem cells  (derived from bone marrow, adipose tissue and umbilical cord), their differentiation and regulation, and their interactions with  novel biomaterials (including graphene based materials)  for musculoskeletal  tissue engineering  strategies;

iii) Define the molecular pathology of the regenerate  "niche" in which tissue regeneration will occur;

iv) Design and utilise ex-vivo models for exploration of cell function in normal, degenerate and tissue engineered tissues

Through collaboration with several academics and colleagues  with skills in biomaterial design  ((both in Manchester and external national and international insitutions), clinicians and industrial partners  members of my group are applying new knowledge gained from this research to develop unique strategies for regenerating the degenerate intervertebral disc and other musculoskeletal tissues ( including  bone  and cartilage).  Funding is gained from many sources including  Arthritis Research UK, The Wellcome Trust, Research into Ageing, DISCS,  Orthopaedic research UK and the AO Foundation.

Research interests

My research interests include:

  • The cell biology of normal (foetal, adolescent and adult)  and diseased cervical and lumbar intervertebral discs
  • Effect of cellular senescence on cell phenotype and function
  • The biology of notochordal cells and development of the IVD
  • The role of the local circadian clock in intervertebral disc homeostasis and degeneration
  • Use of adult mesenchymal stem cells in regeneration of connective tissues (bone and cartilaginous tissues)
  • Tissue engineering/ regeneration of the degenerate intervertebral disc and other musculoskeletal tissues;
  • Development of novel methodologies in Pathology.
  • Development of cell based therapies for musculoskeletal disorders

Key words:

  • Intervertebral disc, cartilage, bone
  • Low back pain
  • Adult mesenchymal stem cells
  • Tissue regeneration/Tissue engineering
  • Musculoskeletal tissues
  • Circadian clock
  • Cell differentiation
  • Molecular Pathology


  • MB ChB Year 1  - Essential Skills PBL tutor, Semester 1 PBL tutor  and PEP supervisor;
  • MBChB Year 3  - APEP supervisor
  • MRes Tissue Engineering for Regenerative Medicine  - course committee member,   masterclass lecturer, tutor and supervisor of laboratory research projects.
  • Supervisor/ co-supervisor of PhD students

My collaborations

Affiliated Staff

  • Dr Stephen Richardson
    Lecturer in Cell  and Tissue engineering
  • Dr Mi Zhou - Post doctoral researcher
  • Dr Tom Hodgkinson - Post doctoral researcher
  • Dr Abbie Binch -Post doctoral researcher
  • Current PhD students:

    Catherine Disney CDT Regenerative Medicine : 3D imaging of dynamically loaded tissues and tissue engineered constructs. ( April 2015-Sept 2018)

    Matthew Humphreys Elucidation of the human notochordal cell phenotype to improve understanding of intervertebral disc development and degeneration and inform novel regenerative therapies Award from Henry Smith Charity (Oct 2014-Sept 2017)

    Richard Smith The Use of Adipose-Derived Stem Cell Subpopulations in Adipose Tissue Engineering (award from The healing Foundation) (Oct 2014-Sept 2017)

    Russell Craddock Mechanical and structural optimisation of stem cell-derived intervertebral discs replacements. FMHS DTC award (Sept 2013-Sept 2017)

    Ben Coverdale Developing a novel bioactive polymer, as an alternative to BMP therapy in bone tissue engineering. EPS award (Sept 2012-April 2016)


  • Prof A Freemont (IIR) Pathology of Intervertebral disc degeneration; development of novel biological therapies for disc degeneration
  • Prof J Gough (Biomaterials) Application of disc cells and adult stem cells to novel biomaterials and with Prof Peter Budd (Chemistry) and Prof David Watts (Dentistry) development of a biodegradeable polymer system for bone repair
  • Prof B Saunders ( EPS) Development of novel polymers/ hydrogels for Spine tissue engineering applications
  • Dr Michael Sherratt (IIR) Understanding the nanostructure and mechanical properties of tissue engineered constructs
  • Dr Qing-Jun Meng (FLS). Investigating disruption to the circadian rhythm as a risk factor for IVD degeneration
  • Prof A Dove (Warwick), Development of novel chitosan based hydrogels for IVD tissue engineering
  • Prof K Shakesheff (Nottingham) Development of microparticles for controlled release of growth factors for tissue engineering/regenerative medicine applications
  • Dr J Dawson (Southampton ) Use of Clay gels in IVD/cartilage tissue engineering
  • Dr P Rooney,National Blood Service Development of methods for the preservation of cartilaginous tissues.
  • Dr P Jenny (Gelexir Healthcare LTD) Application of molecular pathology methodology to assess efficacy of novel material for IVD repair.
  • Mr Tim Board Wrightington Hospital Tissue engineered bone allografts
  • Mr Kanna Gnanalingham (Salford Royal Hospital):  Understanding the pathogenesis of disc degeneration to inform the development of novel therapies for the treatment of IVD Degeneration
  • Prof W Voncken Maastricht University Novel Immortal intervertebral disc cell lines
  • Dr Devina Purmessur (Ohio State University) Pathogenesis of neural and vascular ingrowth into the degenerate IVD
  • Dr Zulma Gazit (Hebrew University, Israel; Cedars-Sinai Medical Center LA). Potential of induced pluripotent stem cell derived notochordal cells for IVD regeneration
  • Dr Ashish Diwan (Dept Orthopaedic Surgery, University of New South WalesNovel biologics for IVD regeneration/repair






Memberships of committees and professional bodies

  • Pathological Society of Great Britain
  • The Back Pain Society
  • British Society for Matrix Biology
  • AO Spine
  • Orthopaedic Research Society (ORS) (USA)
  • Orthopaedic Research Society Spine Section  (USA)

Methodological knowledge

  • Basic science and molecular biology methods
  • Histology and immunohistochemistry
  • In situ hybridisation/in situ PCR
  • Molecular Pathology/tissue profiling techniques
  • Adult mesenchymal stem cell isolation/characterisation and differentiation
  • Mechanical loading of cells and tissues.


1985 BSc (Hons) Medical Sciences, Bradford University

1988 PhD Rheumatology/Pathology, University of Manchester

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Regenerative Medicine Network
  • Advanced Materials in Medicine
  • Digital Futures
  • Christabel Pankhurst Institute


  • Tissue Regeneration, Tissue eginneering, Regenerative Medicine
  • Stem cells
  • Orthopaedics
  • Musculoskeletal Disorders
  • Differentiation
  • back pain
  • Rheumatology


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