Women in the Spotlight: Aline Miller


Aline Miller is a Principal Investigator, Professor of Biomolecular Engineering, and Associate Dean for Business Engagement and Innovation at the University of Manchester.


Tell us more about your role at the University of Manchester?

I’m a professor in Biomolecular Engineering. My home department is Chemical Engineering, but I sit within the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology.

My research focuses on materials design, development and application. I take inspiration from Natures materials and use directed evolution to explore the chemistry of molecular building blocks so they self-assemble into higher ordered structures in specific and efficient ways. I typically look to identify structure-property-processing relationships across the length scales using a suite of experimental tools to be able to engineer and scale functional materials that people use in everyday products.

A lot of the work we’re focusing on now is around regenerative medicine, looking at materials for tissue generation, tissue repair, and drug delivery. We’ve also got a really exciting new stream of work that’s now looking at using natural and sustainable based systems for use within the personal care industry.

I am currently leading an exciting new initiative – the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Catalyst (IBIC). This is a joint initiative with the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester Metropolitan and Salford Universities and we aim to supercharge the growth of careers, business and our regional economy in the NW, while delivering a low carbon economy. We will do so by using our £5m EPSRC Place-Based Impact Acceleration funded grant to support partnership development, knowledge exchange, innovation acceleration and skill and training activities across a range of industry, academia, community building, investors and civic partners.

I also have an Associate Dean for business engagement and innovation role. In that role, I help raise awareness of opportunities and facilitate interactions between our academic community and our industrial partners to help translate knowledge and help solve industry problems. We also do a significant amount of work in terms of helping people create commercial impact from their research.

We are just about to launch a new university Innovation Academy, which is going to help raise awareness and educate people on the pathways to creating spin out startups. That is very exciting as the funding landscape is also currently pivoting to focus more on translational research and opportunities.

Lastly, I am also the innovation lead for Manchester’s Innovation District project, a £1.7-billion-pound investment right in the heart of Manchester city centre. Part of what we’re doing is creating a dedicated incubation hub within this innovation district to really help accelerate people’s growth in their commercialisation journey and provide the wraparound training and support to enable them to accelerate, grow and thrive.


What do you enjoy most about working in your sector?

One thing that I really enjoy is helping PhD students develop a research mindset and a encourage them to keep questioning and exploring their science to enable them to go on to their next career stage whether that be in industry or academia.

I also really enjoy actively helping people deliver something tangible from their research. Publications are important and key – but what more can we do with the research? Can we get it out to impact people’s everyday lives? Part of this involved helping people develop academic skills, but then also helping them develop that innovative commercial mindset that can help them go on to achieve impact is very important to me.


How important is innovation in your sector?

Innovation is very important. Its importance is only increasing in terms of funding, and in terms of justifying what you’re doing and what you’re spending your time on every day.

Growing the UK economy will only come from innovation, and where does innovation come from? It comes from research and development. Therefore, we need to accelerate the translation of R&D from idea through to product, policy and process and make that as simple a path as possible for people, but also enable its acceleration, and to be able to pull some of these great ideas that are coming out of the research community into real products and services delivering tangible social, environmental and economic impact.


What professional achievement are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of the PhD students that have come into our group, graduated and have gone on to thrive and grow in their own careers.

The other thing that I’m probably most proud of is the company that we started just over 10 years ago, Manchester BioGel. We founded it in 2013 based on work that came out of our research group, and grew it over that period to a staff of 10, scaled manufacture, generated revenue and sold our PeptiGel® product world wide. We went onto sell the technology in January 2023 and our materials are now being sold as a consumable for cell culture, drug discovery and bio printing through Cell Guidance Systems Ltd.


What are the challenges of being a woman in your sector?

It still has its challenges, but things have improved over the 20+ years of my career. I think you have to ensure you ‘lean into’ opportunities making sure that you have a seat at the table and then ensure you have a voice that’s listened to.

You also can’t underestimate the importance of managing that work-life balance. I think that’s one of the challenges because to this day, even though it shouldn’t, the majority of caring falls to the mother or the daughter and just trying to manage that can be challenging. It’s doable, but sometimes setting boundaries and priorities is still a challenge, but I continue to work on it! To help I focus on the 4Ps (Patience – there is no overnight success; Passion – have a drive to succeed; Persistence – make mistakes and learn from them; Perspective – remember what’s important to you) and also remember how important it is to not benchmark yourself against other – create your own definition of success.


What’s on the horizon for IBEC?

We are having our formal launch event on the 9th of May where we are going to get the industrial biotechnology community together in Manchester to explore what some of the challenges are within the field, and what some of the opportunities are to deliver a UK-wide bioeconomy. We’ll also discuss what initiatives and activities we can do as IBEC to help that whole community thrive, whether it be academic, industrial, and across that full spectrum of SMEs to larger corporates, to deliver sustainable manufacturing processes, and to move away from our over reliance on fossil fuels as the carbon source of materials. Exciting times ahead!