CIMED Special Emphasis Pathway in
Disorders of Membrane Transport and Excitability


Every movement, every thought, and every heartbeat is the result of electrical signals in our tissues. Defects in the underlying ion channels and transporters cause multiple diseases including cardiac arrhythmias, epilepsies and other neurological disorders, muscle disorders, as well as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and renal insufficiencies. Often these diverse disorders involve organ systems not typically thought of as being electrically excitable. With increased awareness of the myriad of diseases now linked directly to derangements in these processes, there is an emergent need to ensure a well trained cadre of scientists with the breadth and depth of understanding to carry out cutting edge research in excitability and ion transport biology. The current emphasis of core courses on molecular and cell biological approaches does not adequately address this need. This pathway will therefore provide students with the theoretical and practical tools to study the structure, function, and regulation of ion transporters and channels and the role of disruptions in ion transport in disease processes.

The CIMED Special Emphasis Pathway (Diseases of Membrane Transport and Excitability) is a one-year course of study that will supplement the Ph.D. programs in the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences. The Pathway will include individualized computational, clinical and laboratory demonstrations. Students from all the programs are eligible. Students will apply to the pathway before the end of their first semester of study and will enter the pathway during the Spring semester of their first year. The Spring semester two-unit course, Diseases of Membrane Transport and Excitability (Biology 5512) will elaborate on the fundamental concepts of membrane excitability and the physiology of ion transport briefly covered in the Fundamentals of Molecular Cell Biology (Biology 5068) course. Diseases of Membrane Transport and Excitability will also be open to advanced graduate students not enrolled in the pathway. The course will begin in early January and continue through the end of April.  The course will not meet in May to allow students to fulfill qualifying exam requirements.  Class will reconvene in June and continue until early August. Researchers associated with the pathway will introduce laboratory principles and research techniques to give students an in-depth background in studying electrophysiology and transport disorders. This will cover and may include demonstrations on the following topics:  

  • Membrane protein biochemistry and crystallography
  • Voltage-clamp analysis of cells and membranes
  • Ion flux measurements using radioisotopes
  • Ion transport measurements using ion-sensitive fluorescent dyes
  • Cellular approaches to imaging excitability
  • Tissue and organism approaches to imaging excitability

 After developing this theoretical and practical foundation, the curriculum will focus on individual disorders caused by alterations in ion transport. This will include the molecular pathobiology of the disease with reference to associated cell types, organ system, and whole animal physiology and pathology. Potential specific disease sections include:

  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Liddle syndrome
  • Bartter syndrome
  • Epilepsy
  • Spinocerebellar Ataxia
  • Wilson’s Disease
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Diabetes

Each section will consider the molecular basis of the disease as well as animal models and current clinical studies. Addressing studies from the level of basic biophysical and molecular properties of the underlying ion channels/transporters, to the cellular defects, to organ and animal outcomes and therapies, will encourage and force students to develop their ability to integrate understanding at multiple levels. To introduce students to emerging ideas in clinical diagnosis, management and treatment, when appropriate, clinical specialists will allow student participants to directly observe and participate in the clinical experience.

The Pathway Also Includes:

As part of the pathway curriculum students will have the opportunity to participate in short 1-2 week laboratory rotations in designated pathway labs during the summer. This will afford them the opportunity to learn new experimental models, systems and techniques that will be of relevance to their future research.

In addition to partial stipend support, funds will be available to pathway students to support travel/registration to an appropriate national or international scientific meeting. During the meeting the students will be mentored by pathway faculty and directed to symposia and lectures directly related to pathway coursework. Students will also participate in the annual CIMED Research Day and Koster Memorial lecture. The CIMED Research Day consists of research presentations and informal exchanges of information and ideas that encourages scientific and social interactions between the attendees, and will provide an opportunity for personal and scientific interactions between trainees, post-docs, faculty and invited speakers.

For more information or questions please contact:  Robert Mercer  


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