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Pawel Swietach

DPhil, BA

Associate Professor of Cardiovascular Physiology

Molecular Physiology: signalling by small ions

My research has always focused on how small ions regulate cell function. By exploring how these ions affect sub-cellular processes, it’s possible to understand the fundamental physiology of disease, which leads to more effective diagnosis and treatment.

I joined the Department in 2004 as a DPhil student of Professor Richard Vaughan-Jones, having studied as an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford. My doctoral research considered spatial pH regulation in cardiac myocytes, in an attempt to understand how hydrogen ions affect heart function on a cellular level. My subsequent postdoctoral research in the University of Utah and Oxford built on that work, as I sought to understand the role of calcium signalling in the heart, and how it is related to the membrane currents so important to cardiac function.

In 2008, I was awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship (URF) to study spatio-temporal aspects of pH control in cancer, and how acidic pH - a hallmark of cancer - affects cancer cell behaviour and disease progression.

At its core, my work is fuelled by the belief that our understanding of cellular physiology is the basis for clearly understanding all aspects of health and disease. So, more recently, my research group has been studying the effects of a number of small ions -- such as hydrogen, calcium and sodium -- on a wider range of cellular physiology.

By using advanced, real time spatio-temporal imaging techniques and electrophysiology we are already able to accurately assess how single cells are regulated by small ions. But it’s by combining those observations with genetic analysis, mathematical modelling and more lifelike experimental models that we’re able to better understand how the presence of ions influences health and disease -- and that’s where our focus now truly lies. In particular, we’re making headway into how pH is related to cancer development and the importance of mitochondrial regulation by calcium in the heart.

My research is funded by the Royal Society, Medical Research Council, Association for International Cancer Research, European Commission and British Heart Foundation.  I am a Fellow of Corpus Christi.

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