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James Bell

Dr James Bell

(he/him)

Research Associate

School of Optometry and Vision Sciences

Overview

Research

I am a scientist working across the fields of physics, biology, engineering and medicine. My research interest is the hierarchical structure of the tissues in our bodies, how it facilitates function, how it is changed in pathology and how we can use this information to develop targeted therapies. I use a range of imaging techniques to visualise the hierarchical structure of tissue and how it responds to mechanical stimuli that mimics the physiological environment. I fit my data to mechanical models to derive structure-function relationships that can be used in meaningful ways by clinicians and other stakeholders.

Gender Equity

I am a founding member of EMPOWER, a network supporting academics at Cardiff University that identify as female. The network has three primary aims:

  • Bringing people together
    • Arranging in-person and virtual events to connect female academics, develop professional relationships and facilitate cross-disciplinary collaborative project opportunities. We also provide themed workshops on career progression and personal effectiveness, as well as feedback sessions to learn about and share lived experiences.
  • Facilitate peer mentoring
    • We provide training and a platform for our members to support each other, signpost opportunities and offer informal advice
  • Representing our members
    • We canvas our members for feedback on their lived experiences as female academics, and feed this back to the university management through direct interaction (e.g. with the EDI Hub) and embedding into relevant administrative structures. Our work is helping inform Cardiff's Strategic Equality Plan, which will launch in 2024.

If you would like to join the network or learn more about it, please contact empower@cardiff.ac.uk.

Publication

2024

2022

2021

2020

2019

  • Al-Rawachy, A., Husseini, T., Benedikt, J., Tasker, P. and Bell, J. 2019. Cardiff behavioural model analysis using a two-tone stimulus. Presented at: 2019 IEEE Topical Conference on RF/Microwave Power Amplifiers for Radio and Wireless Applications (PAWR), Orlando, FL, USA, 20-23 January 20192019 IEEE Topical Conference on RF/Microwave Power Amplifiers for Radio and Wireless Applications (PAWR). IEEE pp. 5-8., (10.1109/PAWR.2019.8708726)

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2009

Articles

Book sections

Conferences

Research

Overview

My research involves quantifying the mechanical properties of tissue, and relating my findings to the micro- and nano-structure. Most tissues derive their mechanical properties from collagen, which forms an extracellular matrix tailored to the tissue function through interactions with proteoglycan, elastic fibres and interstitial fluid. An excellent paper on the role of collagen in the cornea can be found here. I use techniques such as multiphoton microscopy and X-ray scattering (predominantly at Diamond Light Source, the UK synchrotron) to obtain structural information about tissue that ranges in scale from molecular all the way up to whole tissues. I combine these techniques with mechanical tests that mimic the physiological environment using bespoke apparatus to visualise how the structures I see respond to stress.

Tropocollagen springs

My work in hierarchical biomechanics led to a breakthrough in the understanding of strain mechanisms in collagen. In this paper I showed that some collagen fibrils are able to stretch significantly under relatively small stresses, due to a spring-like straightening of their supramolecular structure. I then showed in this paper that the spring-like mechanism is highly elastic, and accounts for the majority of tissue-scale strain in most non-weightbearing tissues (the rest accounted for by straightening of fibril-scale crimp). This could have profound implications for our biomechanical understanding of a wide range of tissues, including blood vessels, skin, cornea and many other tissues that exhibit this spring-like architecture (see an excellent paper by Ottani et al. for an overview).

Microvascular remodelling in diabetes

I worked on a British Heart Foundation sponsored project that investigated changes in our small arteries caused by diabetes. Our small arteries (approx 100 - 400 μm in diameter) are extremely important, because they are the primary means by which our bodies control organ perfusion. I carried out a multiphoton study in healthy arteries that illustrated the different stress transfer mechanisms present that control the response to pressure changes, as well as the highly heterogeneous distribution of stress through the vessel wall. I followed this up with an article investigating the changes associated with diabetes, which found arteries less able to distend and morphologically distorted due to the presence of pathologically thick taut bundles of collagen constraining the outer edge of the vessel.

Funding

  • 2023: Vice Chancellor's strategic fund - support for EMPOWER network, £5,000, Co-I
  • 2023: Rapid Access Beamtime Grant for beamline K11 (DIAD) "Feasibility study for imaging the lamina cribrosa in DIAD", £8115 (equivalent value for REF), Diamond Light Source, PI.
  • 2022: Vice Chancellor's strategic fund - support for EMPOWER network, £5,000, Co-I
  • 2021: Cardiff Futures project funding, £3,000, Co-I
  • 2021: Commissioning Beamtime Grant for beamline VMXi "Hierarchical effects of mineralisation on collagen structure and biomechanics", £25,416 (equivalent value for REF), Diamond Light Source, PI.
  • 2021: Proof of Concept Award "Hierarchical effects of mineralisation on collagen structure and biomechanics", £20,151, ImagingBioPro, Co-I.
  • 2019: Proof of Concept Award "Hierarchical morphometric analysis of normal and degenerate intervertebral disc under physiological load" £20,144, ImagingBioPro, Co-I.
  • 2019: Commissioning Beamtime Grant for beamline I22 "Hierarchical morphometric analysis of normal and degenerate intervertebral disc under physiological load" £38,124 (equivalent value for REF), Diamond Light Source, PI.
  • 2019: Long Term Access Grant for beamline I22: A mechanistic understanding of corneal pathobiology and the development of novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of connective tissue disorders", £114,372 (equivalent value for REF), Diamond Light Source, Co-I.
  • 2019: Programme Grant "A mechanistic understanding of corneal pathobiology and the development of therapeutic strategies for the treatment of connective tissue disorders", £2,379,357, Medical Research Council, Research Co-Lead.
  • 2019: Standard Access Beamtime Grant for beamline I22 "Microfibrillar architecture of corneal collagen" £5,887 (equivalent value for REF), Diamond Light Source, PI.
  • 2019: RESCOM External Grant Application Support Fund "Towards in vivo nanomechanical characterisation of ocular tissue". £2,686, PI.

Biography

Qualifications

  • 2006: BSc Mathematics and Physics, Class I, University of Exeter
  • 2010: PhD Physics, 'The relationship between the structure and mechanical properties of articular cartilage'.

Career overview

  • 2019 - present: Research Associate, Cardiff University.
  • 2018 - 2019: Teacher, Cardiff University.
  • 2015 - 2018: Research Associate, Cardiff University.
  • 2010 - 2015: Associate Research Fellow / Research Fellow, University of Exeter

Honorary appointments

  • 2019 - present: Visiting Scientist, Diamond Light Source
  • 2018: Visiting Lecturer, Universite Grenoble-Alpes, France.
  • 2015 - present: Visiting Scientist, Exeter University

Honours and awards

  • 2023: "Best Paper" award, Journal of Vascular Research.
  • 2023: "The Honorary Member's Award", Society for Back Pain Research
  • 2022: "Editor's Choice Award", Journal of Vascular Research
  • 2021: Awarded place on Cardiff Futures training scheme
  • 2021: Awarded place on GW4 BBSRC Mock Panel
  • 2020: Awarded place on Welsh Crucible future leaders training scheme.
  • 2019: STEM Ambassador - 50 hours volunteered in a year
  • 2018: Cover Feature, Americal Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology

Committees and reviewing

School committees

  • Chair the Green Impact team
  • Environment representative on the Health and Safety committee
  • Member and "local champion" on IT committee

Reviewing

  • Regular reviewer for Acta Biomaterialia

Specialisms

  • Biomechanics
  • Biophysics
  • Biomedical imaging
  • Nonlinear optics and spectroscopy
  • X-ray diffraction