Biological protein materials feature hierarchical structures that make up a diverse range of physiological materials. The analysis of protein materials is an emerging field that uses the relationships between biological structures, processes and properties to probe deformation and failure phenomena at the molecular and microscopic level. Here we discuss how advanced experimental, computational and theoretical methods can be used to assess structure-process-property relations and to monitor and predict mechanisms associated with failure of protein materials. Case studies are presented to examine failure phenomena in the progression of disease. From this materials science perspective, a de novo basis for understanding biological processes can be used to develop new approaches for treating medical disorders. We highlight opportunities to use knowledge gained from the integration of multiple scales with physical, biological and chemical concepts for potential applications in materials design and nanotechnology.