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Developing a Drosophila melanogaster model of the cardiac myocyte action potential to investigate function and performance

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  • Full or part time
    Dr J Niven
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

NC3Rs/British Heart Foundation post-graduate research studentship.

To characterise the electrical properties of molecular components contributing to action potentials of cardiac myocytes and incorporate them into a computational model.

It is estimated that over 69,000 non-regulatory procedures were performed on animals for cardiovascular research in the UK in 2014 (not including those undertaken for regulatory purposes); many of these procedures were carried out on mice, rats and fish.
Cardiac myocytes constitute a major cell type in the heart and are responsible for much of the rhythmic contraction. The fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) heart is composed of cardiac myocytes that possess many of the same molecular and physiological features as their vertebrate counterparts. Existing research, however, concentrates on the hearts of fly larvae - study at the cellular level and in adults has largely been neglected.
With a better understanding the molecular components of the cardiac myocytes, the fly heart has potential for the study of basic cardiac biology, early-stage drug development and genetic screening. This would be an attractive model for uptake by the research community both in terms of reducing vertebrate use, but also by lowering experimental costs.

Research details and methods
Intracellular recordings using sharp electrodes, combined with ionophoretic fluorescent dye injection to identify the cell type and location within he heart, will be used to characterise electrical properties of myocytes in vivo. Whole-cell patch clamp recordings will determine the properties of electrical components such as ion channels, pumps and exchangers of cardiac myocytes in isolation. Combining this experimental data a Goldman-Hodgkin-Katz model of the cardiac myocyte action potential will be developed to include the contributions of individual components.

How to Apply:
To be considered for a place you will need to complete our online application which can be found at
Apply for 2016 entry, September start. Mention the name of the supervisor in ‘suggested supervisor’ section. In funding section mention sponsored or seeking funding. In ‘Award details’ mention NC3Rs/BHF funded studentship.

Documents required: A brief statement of interest in the project (up to two A4 pages), full CV, two academic references, UG/PG transcripts and IELTS/TOEFL results if you are residing in the EU.

Funding Notes

UK and EU residents can apply.


Niven JE, Vähäsöyrinki M, Kauranen M, Hardie RC, Juusola M, Weckström M. (2003). The contribution of Shaker K+ channels to the information capacity of Drosophila photoreceptors. Nature, 421, 630-634.

Sengupta, B., Stemmler, M., Laughlin, S.B. and Niven, J.E. (2010). Action potential energy efficiency varies among neuron types in vertebrates and invertebrates. PLoS Comput. Biol., 6, e1000840.

Magny, E.G., Pueyo, J.I., Pearl, F.M., Cespedes, M.A., Niven, J.E., Bishop, S.A., Couso, J.P. (2013). Conserved regulation of cardiac calcium uptake by peptides encoded in small open reading frames. Science, 341, 1116-1160.

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