Interaction of cells with nanostructured materials and surfaces

Professor Rowan is an experienced physical materials chemist with a track record in fundamental and applied research in novel molecules and materials for applications in field as wide as catalysis, nanoelectronics, biomimetic machines and more recently synthetic extracellular matrices. In my group we strive to understand the relationship between molecular architecture and macroscopic functions, designing and synthesizing new materials as well as building new analytical tools to study them. This relationship has led to a fundamental understanding of how to control material properties, which we have applied to a wide range of societal problems such as wound healing, cell growth and organic solar cells.

​After completing his first postdoctoral appointment in New Zealand in 1993 Professor Rowan returned to Europe as a Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Nijmegen. He was based in Europe since then, securing a string of successful Research and Teaching Positions in the Institute for Molecules and Materials (IMM) at the University of Nijmegen. In 2005 he became a Full professor at the University of Nijmegen, where he established a new research department of Molecular Materials, within the Institute of Molecules and Materials. As head of this research cluster Professor Rowan led a team of assistant professors, support staff and more than 50 PhDs and Post Docs and masters’ students.

In 2016 Professor Rowan became the Director of the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology and an ARC Laureate Fellow in the area of mechanotransduction, which allowed me to establish a new research group at UQ in the area of mechano-biochemistry. In addition to his appointment in the AIBN at UQ, he is an honorary Professor at both the University of Stellenbosch (South Africa) and the Radboud University Nijmegen (Netherlands), and has a Special Frontiers Materials Professorship at the Chinese Academy of Chemical Sciences 2015-2016. 

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

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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.