Dr Alicia D’Souza is a cardiac physiologist and a British Heart Foundation Basic Science Intermediate Research Fellow at the University of Manchester. Following PhD studies on the physiology of the diabetic heart (awarded June 2011, University of Central Lancashire), her research has focused on the transcriptional dysregulation of cardiac ion channels, a key pro-arrhythmic mechanism. Funded by the British Heart Foundation, her work so far has investigated microRNA and transcription factor-control of ion channels with specific emphasis on the cardiac conduction system in athletic training and during the circadian rhythm. In these settings, she has identified (i) a critical role for transcriptional remodelling of the key pacemaking ion channel, HCN4, and a corresponding reduction in its ionic current If (ii) novel regulators of If namely microRNA-423-5p, NKX2.5 and BMAL1. These findings overturn current thinking on the mechanisms that underlie bradyarrhythmias, especially in athletes.
Based on these data, her team is currently investigating the involvement of microRNAs in common endurance training-induced arrhythmias (heart block and atrial fibrillation). In addition to a primary focus on training, with further BHF support Alicia is also investigating control of pacemaking ion channels by the circadian clock and its potential interactions with the autonomic nervous system. The group adopts an integrative approach - combining whole-organism (large and small animal), tissue and single cell studies of physiology with cutting edge genomic technologies in understanding the epigenetic basis of ion channel plasticity.
Alicia’s work has been publicised in the popular media (e.g. on the BBC) and has attracted numerous International and Society Prizes. She attributes this success, in no small part, to to fantastic mentorship within the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences and local, national and international collaborations across a range of disciplines.