Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
We're launching a new website soon and would love your feedback. See the new design

Dr Jonathan Dawson 

EPSRC Research Fellow

Dr Jonathan Dawson's photo
Related links
The Nanoclay Group

Dr Jonathan Dawson is EPSRC Research Fellow within Medicine at the University of Southampton.

I am exploring ways to stimulate stem cells by controlling their microenvironment through the use of gels and nanoparticles.

Jon has a five-year personal fellowship from the EPSRC to develop his research group exploring the application of clay nanoparticles for regenerative medicine.
Jon started his work with clay nanoparticles during his PhD (2004-2007), investigating novel biomaterials for skeletal regeneration. The PhD was a BBSRC Strategic Research Studentship at the interface of medicine and chemistry under Prof. Richard Oreffo (School of Medicine, University of Southampton, USOTON) and Prof. George Attard (School of Chemistry, USOTON).

The work was motivated by the ability of clay nanoparticles to self-organise into gels, potentially allowing stem-cells to be delivered and retained at an injury site via injection and gel-formation in situ.

Early on Jon encountered significant problems recovering biological information from clay-gel encapsulated cells due to the tendency of biological molecules to stick to clay particles. This ‘sticky’ problem presented, however, a unique opportunity to control the stem cell environment through the ability of clay particles to hold biological signals in space and over time.
Jon has since developed a range of assays to confirm the ability of clay-associated molecules to direct stem cell behaviour. The exciting results from these early studies and the fruitful interactions that have followed constitute the background to much of his current work.

In 2017, Jon co-founded and became Developmental Lead of Renovos Biologics Limited, a spin-out from the University of Southampton to progress the clinical translation of his work on nanoclay gels – for more information visit Renovos Biologics Limited website.

Jon has worked as a postdoctoral research fellow within the field of stem cell biology and published in journals such as Stem Cells, Advanced Materials, Bone and Biomaterials. He has also worked closely with clinicians engaged in translational stem cell research and in 2010 was awarded The Engineer Award for a collaboration with industry and clinicians developing an intra-operative bone marrow stem cell concentration method.


BSc (1st), Biological Sciences, University of Plymouth
PhD, University of Southampton
Postdoctoral Career Track Fellow, Bone and Joint Research Group, University of Southampton (September 2013 – May 2014)
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Bone and Joint Research Group, University of Southampton (Oct 2007 – August 2013)

Jon leads a team exploring how gels formed from clay nanoparticles could be harnessed to create injectable tissues that would develop from stem cells in situ and eliminate, in many situations, the need for surgery

Injectable stem cell microenvironments
Injectable stem cell

Essential to harnessing the potential of stem-cells to regenerate tissue is the ability to carefully control their local biological environment. The open structures of conventional scaffolds or gels means their ability to control the biological molecules present in the local environment is limited. The ability of clay nanoparticles to bind such molecules presents a unique opportunity to create local environments at a site of injury or disease that could stimulate and control stem cell driven repair.

That molecules stick to clay has been known by scientists since the 1960s. Doctors observed that absorption into the blood stream of certain drugs was severely reduced when patients were also receiving clay-based antacid or anti-diarrheal treatments. This curious phenomenon was realized to be due to binding of the drugs by clay particles. This interaction is now routinely harnessed in the design of tablets to carefully control the release and action of a drug.
Combined with the ability of certain clay nanoparticles to self- organize into gels, Jon’s group is seeking to use this property of clay to create injectable micro-environments that could stimulate stem cells to regenerate damaged tissues such as bone and skin.

Basic and translational stem cell biology
Working closely with skeletal stem cell experts Professor Richard Oreffo, University of Southampton, and Professor Moustapha Kassem, University of Southern Denmark, Jon is developing this approach as a means to gain new insights into the biological signalling underlying stem cell behavior. They hope eventually to be able to use clay gels to provide stem cells with these signals to stimulate bone regeneration

Self organising clay gels
Self organising clay gels

Developing new materials
As wells as forming gels clay particles can also interact with large structural molecules (polymers) that are frequently used in the development of materials (or 'scaffolds'), designed to host stem cells. These interactions can greatly improve the strength of such structures and could be applied to preserve their stability at the site of injury until regeneration is complete.

Working with leading polymer chemists Jöns Hilborn, University of Uppsala and Kevin Shakescheff, University of Nottingham, Jon is exploring ways to apply clay nanoparticles to enhance the mechanical and biological properties of established biomedical materials

Clay nanoparticles to enhance polymers
Clay nanoparticles

Research Projects

Bioactive clay gels to accelerate fracture healing and bone repair

Staff and Students: David MR Gibbs (MD), Professor Richard Oreffo, Dr Jonathan Dawson

The majority of fractures (broken bones) heal uneventfully. However some fractures, such as a femoral (thigh bone) or tibial (shin) take months to heal. In cases where a fracture has been caused by a high energy injury, such as a road traffic collision, as many as half may not heal.

Certain proteins responsible for stimulating bone formation in the body have been isolated for use clinically and shown success in improving bone healing. Unfortunately, these growth factors break down very quickly meaning very large doses are required for effect. This results in side effects and makes the treatment very expensive.

We are attempting to use clay gels to facilitate a prolonged, localised release of BMP at the target site. We hope this will dramatically reduce the dose of BMP required, reducing potential side effects, and making the treatment more affordable and effective.

Clay gels to help fractures heal
Clay gels to help fractures heal

Bioactive clay gels for the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers

Staff and Students: Daniel Page, Dr Jonathan Dawson, Dr Nick Evans

People that suffer with diabetes are at risk of developing diabetic foot ulcers; they are a type of chronic wound that can be extremely debilitating and can result in lower limb amputation. Impaired wound healing is an important factor that affects ulcer development and progression. Scientists believe that finding ways to improve wound healing in diabetics could lead to more effective foot ulcer treatment.

In chronic diabetic wounds, molecules and proteins that are responsible for cell signalling are poorly regulated. This causes various cell types to become unable to interact with each other, resulting in lack of blood flow and prolonged inflammation.

We are investigating the synthetic clay Laponite as a candidate of improving wound healing in chronic diabetic wounds. Laponite clay has unique structural properties allowing it to form complex gels in water and bind to biologically active proteins/molecules. By topically applying Laponite to chronic diabetic wounds we will monitor wound recovery and determine if it has any positive effects. Furthermore, we hope to bind key cell signal proteins and molecules to Laponite and deliver this to the site of the wound. Ultimately, we hope to improve cell interaction in a significant way that creates a wound environment that is capable of regeneration.

Skin cells growing into clay gels
Skin cells growing into clay gels

Research group

Human Development and Health

Affiliate research group

Bone and Joint Research Group

Sort via:TypeorYear


Book Chapter



Jon serves as a tutor on the undergraduate (BM5) and postgraduate (BM4) Bachelor of Medicine courses in the Faculty of Medicine.

Dr Jonathan Dawson
Faculty of Medicine, Room AB215, Mailpoint 801, South Academic Block, University Hospital Southampton, Tremona Road, Southampton, SO16 6YD

Share this profile Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo
Privacy Settings