Interaction of cells with nanostructured materials and surfaces

Professor Alan Rowan is performing his research at the interface of chemistry and biology with seminal and pioneering work on processive catalysis and functional self-assembly. His latest scientific achievement has been the development of the first truly biomimetic hydrogel which mimics the mechanic and functional properties of the extracellular membrane. This recent discovery has further established Professor Rowan as a truly innovative scientist, working toward understanding at the molecular level the functional of hierarchical materials and catalysis.

Professor Rowan has published nearly 300 hundred peer-reviewed articles and books (h-index 68), including 18 Science and Nature-family papers, that were cited more than 17,000 times (Google Scholar). His research has also led to several patents, with a variety of commercial applications. He has had the pleasure of supervising more than 55 PhD students who have received their doctoral degree.

Professor Rowan, is currently an ARC Laureate fellow, Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board for the ARC Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science and Technology, and board member of: The UQ Confucius Institute; The Dow Centre for Sustainability; and of UQ Senior Management group.

Industry Engagement & Collaborations

As Director of the AIBN, Prof Alan Rowan oversees a team of 500 researchers and professional staff. He is on the Board of the Dow Centre for Sustainability and the University Senior Management Group. In recognition of his translational effort Prof Alan Rowan was nominated in 2013 as one of the Netherlands Science Entrepreneurs of the year. In the last three years he has been granted five patents and have five pending in the area of nanomedicine. Professor Alan Rowan has also been involved in the start up of four companies: Encapson, Noviotech, NovioSense and Secmatix

​In the fields of biomimetic catalysis and functional materials, Prof Alan Rowan worked with some of Europe’s best departments and institutes ISIS Strasbourg, Imperial College London, Cambridge University and Oxford University, Max Plank Mainz Germany and KULeuven Belgium, all renowned Centres of academic excellence. This includes collaborations with, and mentorship from, leading figures in the field such as Prof C.A. Hunter, Prof R.J.M Nolte, Prof R. Friend, Prof K. Muellen and Nobel Laureate Prof J.M. Lehn. Key international collaborators include; Prof M. Stevens (Imperial College, London), Prof F. Macintosh (UVA Amsterdam), Prof O. Ikkala (University of Helsinki), Prof J. Hofkens (KULeuven Belgium), Prof M. Mueller (Aachen Germany).

Key Publications

Kouwer, P. H. J.; Koepf, M.;..Rowan A. E.; Responsive biomimetic networks from polyisocyano-peptide hydrogels, Nature 493, (7434), 651-655 (2013). This work, described the design, synthesis and properties of the world’s first synthetic semi-flexible polymer network, which mimicked precisely the physical and mechanical properties of extracellular matrices. 

Das, R.K.; … Rowan, A. E. Stress-stiffening-mediated stem-cell commitment switch in soft responsive hydrogels, Nature Materials 15, 318–325, (2016). This work is a paradigm shift in stem cell culturing. We demonstrated for the first time that hMSC differentiation is controlled by the stress stiffening mechano-transduction between the cell and the matrix. 

Jaspers, M.;… Rowan, A.E.; Kouwer P.H.J. Ultra-Responsive soft matter from stain stiffening hydrogels Nat.Commun., 5, 5808, (2014). The stiffness of hydrogels is crucial for their application. Nature’s hydrogels become stiffer as they are strained. Our experimental work in combination with network theory yields universal laid down the design principles for future strain-stiffening materials. 

van Dongen, et al Rowan A.E.; Nolte, R.J. M. A clamp-like biohybrid catalyst for DNA oxidation. Nature Chemistry, 5 (11), 945-951 (2013). This very challenging study was the first biohybrid rotaxane catalyst ever constructed. By modifying the protein bio-machinery found in DNA Nuclease with a porphyrin catalyst, we demonstrated that a functionalized peptide macrocycle could be threaded onto a DNA polymer where upon it could move in a directional fashion along ds-DNA and cleave specific AAA base pairs sequences, mimicking the process of natural DNA exonucleases. 

Nagelkerke, A.; …Rowan A.E. The mechanical microenvironment in cancer: how physics affects tumors Semin. Cancer Biol. 35, 62–70, (2015). A review of how the tumour microenvironment contributes greatly to the response of tumour cells.