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Research groups

Pawel Swietach


Professor of Physiology

Molecular Physiology: signalling by small ions

I am fascinated by how a collection of various chemical components in a cell can produce biological life under the constraints of physical laws.  This is why I am a physiologist.

Research in my lab is driven by an interest in how biological processes are affected by chemical acidity.  All tissues are exquisitely sensitive to changes in acidity (often expressed on a pH scale), therefore the remit of our research is broad.  However, our two main pillars relate to the heart and to cancer.  Acidity has a powerful effect on cardiac biology and is particularly important in cardiac diseases. In tumours, acidity is a chemical signature that influences disease progression.  By discovering the mechanisms of these pH-responses, we hope to deliver new insights that may lead to better diagnosis, management and treatment of cardiovascular diseases and cancer.  Most of our work is supported by the European Research Council (ERC) and the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

I joined the Department in 2001 as a PhD student working on spatial pH control in the heart in Richard Vaughan-Jones’ lab.  Between 2004 and 2008, my research work, split between DPAG and Ken Spitzer’s lab at the University of Utah, focused on how changes in pH influence calcium signalling, a key driver of cardiac physiology. 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 affects cancer cell behaviour and disease progression. I received mentorship from Adrian Harris.  In 2017, I was awarded an ERC Consolidator Award to expand my research in the area of acid-selection in colorectal cancer.  In that year, I also began leading a BHF Programme on the role of acidity in hypertrophic cardiac growth, which often precedes heart failure.

In the 2020 Recognition of Distinction Exercise, I was conferred the title of Professor of Physiology. In 2024, I was elected to be a member of the Academia Europeae: the Academy of Europe.