We study signals inside cells, particularly calcium ions. Changes in the calcium levels inside cells are one of the key controllers of what cells are doing second-to-second. We are also looking at how these signals are altered in disease states, particularly diseases associated with free radical production like pancreatitis. The main technology we use is high-powered light microscopy, combined with loading fluorescent probe molecules into the cell to 'read out' what is going on.
B.Sc. Chemistry Bristol
Ph.D. Physiology University College London
Lecturer in Physiology, University of Manchester
Visiting Researcher, University of Sydney, Australia.
Visiting Research Scientist, Gene Therapy and Therapeutics Branch, NIDR, NIH, Bethesda, U.S.A.
I originally came to Manchester in the late 80s as a specialist in biomedical NMR spectroscopy NMR was very fashionable at the time in metabolic biochemistry and physiology. The special power of NMR was that it allowed minute-by-minute measurements of things like intracellular pH and ATP levels in intact living tissues. I had first come across NMR as an undergraduate studying chemistry and biochemistry, and then did a Ph.D. applying NMR to skeletal and cardiac muscle. After coming to Manchester I switched to using fluorescent probes to make non-invasive measurements of intracellular ion levels. This was mostly because fluorescent probes offered many of the same advantages as NMR, but could measure a much wider range of parameters. The first major topic we tackled with fluorescence was transport of bicarbonate ions by salivary gland secretory cells - ever wondered why your saliva is alkaline?
(Answer: Because of secretion of bicarbonate ions into the saliva. Very useful for stopping food acids from rotting your teeth.)
Since about 1990 the major focus of my work has been calcium signals in living cells, going down to the single cell and subcellular level (see above). We have moved into fluorescence imaging to do this, so we do most of our experiments sitting in small dark rooms.
In 1997-8 I spent a Sabbatical year at the NIH in Washington DC trying to re-train a bit in molecular biology. Doing experiments again was quite a shock, but I certainly learnt something. I would like to apply molecular techniques more in my research in the future, especially using viral gene delivery (gene therapy) methods to change the phenotype of differentiated cells.
Regarding teaching, as a lecturer in general physiology I have taught all kinds of things, from muscle biophysics to the heartbeat to the details of how cells signal to one another. Teaching a wide variety of subject areas is a good recipe for keeping an active brain, since you have to keep learning new areas. It also means lots of different challenges. For instance, covering the whole of the immune system in a 1-hr lecture is a lot different to giving four detailed lectures on [Ca2+]i signalling in the pancreas!