Why do mothers get a kick out of babies – and other big questions
Fundamental research about in-utero gymnastics, bone health and ‘how water works’ are being explored by three Irish scientists with the help of European funding
“Bone is a very dynamic tissue,” he says. “It’s constantly repairing, remodelling and adapting, with bone tissue being resorbed back into the body and new bone forming.”
In osteoporosis that cycle gets out of balance – more resorption and less formation means a net loss of bone over time and an increased risk of fracture.
While some therapies for osteoporosis try to slow down bone resorption, Dr Hoey is looking to the other side of the see-saw: bone formation. And he has his sights on stem cells within bone that react to physical force.
“We know that physical loading promotes bone formation – stem cells in the bone respond to the force by developing into bone-forming cells,” he says. “But we don’t understand how that happens.”
Dr Hoey wants to take a closer look at antenna-like structures on the cells called primary cilia, and particularly how they respond to forces in the lab and in models of osteoporosis.
“My theory is that these cilia or antennae deform under a physical load, and that acts like a switch that triggers the cell into turning into a bone-forming cell,” he says.
After the five years of his grant, he hopes to have pinpointed mechanisms through which the cilia can sense and react to physical force and have started to develop a way of mimicking that response chemically.
“Many people with osteoporosis are not in a position to do lots of physical activity, so ideally we want to identify a potential drug that can ‘trick’ the weakened bone into building up more tissue.”
When water comes into contact with a surface – such as a water filter or a medical implant – the hydrogen bonding between its atoms can change, and this can affect processes such as fouling of filters and how implants behave in the body.
Water, water everywhere – but do we really know how it works? There’s plenty left to discover about the molecule that keeps us alive on this planet, and Dr Aoife Gowen is taking a close look. An extremely close look.
“Over time you get this accumulation of materials on the surface and this is mediated by water,” explains Dr Gowen, who is a lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology’s School of Food Science and Environmental Health.
Using chemical imaging she is taking a close look at how water’s hydrogen bonding changes when it contacts various materials. “I am looking at the interactions between polymers, water, proteins, cells – everything that is in the system – and getting a spatially resolved image of how it’s interacting and changing over time.”
For the next five years her close-up work on water will be funded through the European Research Council.
“I want to apply these techniques to several different environmental and biological systems – trying to understand what is going on with these water molecules that are of fundamental importance.”