UK’s Aston University to establish membrane excellence institute

Aston University is establishing the Aston Institute for Membrane Excellence (AIME), a cross-disciplinary institute to develop novel biomimetic membranes, with a £10 million grant from Research England.

Image shows how tiny water channels control how water enters and exits cells through their membranes.
Image shows how tiny water channels control how water enters and exits cells through their membranes. - Image: Aston University.

AIME will be led by Professor Roslyn Bill, from Aston University's the School of Biosciences, with co-lead Professor Paul Topham from the department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry (CEAC).

The team behind AIME believes that the full potential of membranes will only be realised by an interdisciplinary group spanning biology, physics and chemistry that can investigate membranes holistically.

Professor Bill, a European Research Council (ERC) advanced grantee, leads Aston Membrane Proteins and Lipids (AMPL) research centre of excellence that studies the structure and function of membrane proteins and associated lipids. Professor Topham leads Aston Polymer Research Group (APRG), which investigates the nanoscale behaviour of block copolymers  and polymer technologies for membranes. AMPL and APRG have already begun collaborative research and AIME will bring together the complementary expertise of both research clusters into one institute.

AIME will initially comprise the eight researchers from AMPL and APRG. The new AIME team will focus on the development of bioinspired, highly selective polymer structures for applications in water purification and waste remediation, nanoparticles loaded with therapeutic molecules to treat disorders ranging from chronic wounds to neurological injuries, and the purification of individual membrane proteins with polymers to study them as drug targets.

The vision is for AIME to become a ‘one-stop shop’ for interdisciplinary, translational membrane research through its facilities access and expertise.

“The creation of AIME is ground-breaking," said Professor Bill. "Together with Aston’s investment, E3 funding will deliver a step-change in scale and the rate at which we can grow capacity. We will address intractable scientific challenges in health, disease, and biotechnology, combining our world-class expertise in polymer chemistry and membrane biology to study membranes holistically. The excellence of our science, alongside recent growth in collaborative successes means we have a unique opportunity to deliver AIME’s ambitious and inclusive vision.”

Professor Topham said: “We are really excited by this fantastic opportunity to work more closely with our expert colleagues in Biosciences to create advanced technology to address real world problems. From our side, we are interested in molecular engineering, where we control the molecular structure of new materials to manipulate their properties to do the things that we want! Moreover, we are passionate about a fully sustainable future for our planet, and this investment will enable us to develop technological solutions in a sustainable or ‘green’ way.”