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The University of Southampton
Centre for Human Development, Stem Cells and RegenerationResearch themes

Clay gels for regenerative microenvironments

Clay crystals can self-organise into clear gels and hold biological signals to create controllable microenvironments tailored for stem-cells.
Lapoinite clay

Stem cells possess the potential to cure an astonishing variety of conditions by regenerating diseased or damaged tissue. A stem cell responds to cues received from its surrounding environment and so controlling this environment will be vital to harnessing the potential of stem cells for regenerative medicine.

Clay crystals possess unique properties that mean they can self-organise into gel structures and interact with biological molecules. For example, in the 1960s clinicians observed that the presence of certain drugs in the blood stream was severely reduced when patients simultaneously received clay-based anti-diarrhoeal treatments. This was realised to be due to the binding of drugs by the clay particles, and this property is now routinely utilised in the design of tablets to carefully control the release and action of a drug.

In collaboration with George Attard at Chemistry, University of Southampton, Jonathan Dawson is investigating the potential of clay gels to bind bioactive molecules to stimulate local cell behaviour. We have found that applying clay gels in this way can stimulate the formation of new blood-vessels at an injury site. These exciting results could pave a way to create tailor-made microenvironments that direct stem-cells to regenerate tissue and organs.


Jonathan Dawson, Richard Oreffo, Nick Evans, George Attard


Dawson, J. I., et al. (2011) Clay Gels For the Delivery of Regenerative Microenvironments. Adv Mat, 23:3304-8

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