The ECMage network focusses on the ageing of extracellular matrix (ECM), a major structural & functional determinant of tissue resilience with remarkable tissue specificity. Our tissues comprise of cells and >1000 ECM proteins. The ECM facilitates cell-matrix and cell-cell communication, and exchange of nutrients and growth factors. The ECM undergoes structural changes with age, leading to accumulation of fragmented, cross-linked ECM proteins and loss of ECM ligands. Alterations to ECM underpin many age-related tissue changes, such as loss of elasticity, poor healing, scarring, abnormal growths and entry into senescence, a hallmark of ageing. Remarkably, ECM is a target of daily changes governed by our ~24h (circadian) time-keeping mechanisms, highlighting ECM as a malleable driver of tissue ageing. However, there is a critical need to understand how ageing alters the ECM of specific organ/tissue systems, how age-associated ECM impacts tissue-specific deterioration and the roles of specific cell sub-types involved.
The EcMage network brings together complementary expertise in key aspects of ageing, matrix biology, chronobiology, AI/computational modelling and tissue engineering across UK to develop novel models to study ECM ageing, particularly 3D biological models, new biomaterials to mimic tissue-specific ECM and in silico models to predict novel anti-ageing therapies. Working together, sharing models, technologies, knowledge and expertise, we will strategically address challenges in ageing research with a view to generate paradigm-shifting discoveries with long-term benefit of improving lives and outcomes for older people.