An Interview with: Dr Matt Gibson 

Dr Matt Gibson is an Associate Professor at the University of Warwick and Principal Investigator in the Gibson Group.  

Matt and his group use organic, polymer and carbohydrate chemistry to address global healthcare issues, with particular relevance to regenerative medicine and infectious diseases.

They have recently been using the Linkam BCS196 cryostage to assist with research into antifreeze proteins, with the aim of producing novel cryoprotectants for biological storage.

We spoke to Matt about a paper they have recently had published in the journal Scientific Reports:

Mitchell, DE., Congdon, T., Rodger, A. and Gibson, MI. (2015). Gold Nanoparticle Aggregation as a Probe of Antifreeze (Glyco) Protein-Inspired Ice Recrystallization Inhibition and Identification of New IRI Active Macromolecules. Scientific Reports 5, 15716.

Q. What was the motivation for the research?

A. In my group we seek to combine synthetic polymer and carbohydrate chemistry to make new materials which can play a role in improving health. One particular area of research is the design and synthesis of antifreeze (glyco)protein (AFP) mimics. AFPs are found in a range of species which can survive in extreme cold temperatures by preventing, or slowing the rate of ice growth. I.e. stopping the same process which makes ice cream taste ‘grainy’ once it has been in the freezer for a while. This growth of ice is also a major problem in the cryopreservation of donor cells and tissue for transplantation. The current best technologies involve adding large amounts of organic solvent to the cells which is obviously not ideal for future transplantation. If we can improve the storage of cells (or in the future, tissues and organs) we could really improve the scope for regenerative medicine procedures. Unfortunately, AFPs are not always easy to synthesise in large quantities and are not ideally suited to this application. So we seek to make synthetic polymers, which mimic the function of AFPs, and have had some success at this recently. Our work in this area is currently funded by the European Research Council (CRYOMAT), The University of Warwick and The Leverhulme trust.

Q. What is gained from the results?

A. In our recent studies we have focussed on identified new ‘motifs’ (structural features) which have AFP-like function, even though they do not ‘look like’ AFPs. Whilst there are very good methods for doing this, they are rather slow and we wanted to see if we can start to use more high-throughput or rapid methods to screen for activity quickly. In this paper we use gold nanoparticle aggregation as a marker for AFP-like activity and we were happy to see that for our polymers, it was quite predictive. We will be testing it with a wider range of compounds in the future as a route to identify new AFP mimetic materials which can then be studied in more detail for both activity and cryopreservation.

Q. Why was the cryostage useful for your research?

A. To measure antifreeze function, we need to use a stable, temperature controlled cryo-stage for our microscopes, to enable us to measure ice crystal growth. A Linkam Cryostage gives us good temperature control and the ability to carefully increase or decrease the temperature as needed.