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Moazen to lead Human Science Frontier Program project to study osteoderms

International team to study calcified skin in three-year $1.2m project

Moazen to lead Human Science Frontier Program project to study osteoderms

Mehran Moazen

Dr Mehran Moazen, Lecturer in Biomedical Engineering , UCL Mechanical Engineering

A team led by Dr Mehran Moazen has been awarded a prestigious grant by The International Human Frontier Science Program Organization (HFSPO) for basic scientific research into study biomineralization, the development of calcified tissue in some animals.

The project, titled “Unravelling an unusual biomineralization from nano to macro scale using advanced technologies” will use a range of techniques to try to understand the evolution of the diverse forms calcified skin, known as osteoderms, in lizards.

Dr Moazen, a mechanical engineer whose research includes a focus on the biomechanics of bones, explained the puzzle he and his colleagues from the UK, Canada and France are trying to help unravel.

“We have brought together a multidisciplinary team of engineers, biologists and  palaeontologists to investigate the mechanisms underlying the development, evolution and patterning of calcified tissue that form within the skin of some animals.

We do not know what drives the extraordinary diversity of osteoderms in lizards, how it is controlled, or how it originated. It could be a by-product of other genetic differences or, more likely, a natural optimization to enhance osteoderm function, protective or otherwise, under conditions specific to each lizard type.”

Dr Moazen’s colleagues on the three-year, $1.2m Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) project include fellow UCL researchers Dr Sergio Bertazzo (UCL Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering) and Professor Susan Evans (UCL Cell and Developmental Biology). The team will use a range of advanced techniques in their investigation, including genetic analysis, material testing, imaging, and computer simulations.

“A truly international intiative”

In congratulating the team on their HFSP award, UCL Mechanical Engineering’s Head of Department Professor Yiannis  Ventikos said;

close up photo of a lizard on a branch

The team will investigate the evolution of calcified skin, or ostoderms, in lizards.

“There are few funding bodies that support genuine basic research, and the Human Frontier Science Program holds a very prominent position amongst those: a truly international initiative, it supports ambitious and challenging life sciences research that often cuts across biology, medicine and engineering.

The success that Dr Mehran Moazen, his UCL colleagues and their international partners enjoyed in the last round of the HFSP is further accentuated by the fact that their proposal was actually ranked 3rd, in a process that started with more than 600 expressions of interest coming from all over the world. A huge congratulation to Mehran for this very substantial accomplishment!”

Outlining the impact he and his colleagues are hoping for Moazen said, “This is a basic science project focused on a novel biological tissue and its evolutionary implications. Using a systems approach may shed light on pathological calcifications, as well as aiding the development of biomimetic materials and structures.

We very much looking forward to starting this fascinating project and to report back its findings.”

Notes

The Human Frontier Science Program is an international program of research support implemented by the International Human Frontier Science Program Organization (HFSPO) based in Strasbourg, France. Its aims are to promote intercontinental collaboration and training in cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research focused on the life sciences.

The lists of all 2019 HFSP awards are available at http://www.hfsp.org/awardees/newly-awarded.

The team

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