Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and, though the fibre-forming collagens have a 'common' structure, it is adapted to perform a large range of functions-from the differing mechanical needs of tendon versus bone to forming a transparent support structure in the cornea. This perfidy also suggests that collagen could form a generic basis for a range of scaffold needs for tissue engineering or medical device coating applications. We at the London Centre for Nanotechnology--a joint venture between University College London and Imperial College--are taking a bottom-up approach having decided that many of the 'accepted dogmas' of collagen biology may not be quite as soundly based as currently held. We are using several of the tools of 'hard' nanotechnology--such as atomic force microscopy--to re-examine collagen structure with the longer term aim of using such information to design materials with appropriate physical attributes. Examples of our current research on mineralised and soft tissue collagens are presented.
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