MSE Research Project Database

How do cardiac cells grow?

Project Leader: Vijayaraghavan Rajagopal
Staff: Edmund Crampin
Student: Gregory Bass
Collaborators: Edmund Crampin (Maths and Statistics), Christian Soeller (Exeter), Llewelyn Roderick (Luven)
Primary Contact: Vijay Rajagopal (
Keywords: biocellular systems engineering; biomedical engineering; computational biology; heart; systems biology
Disciplines: Biomedical Engineering
Domains: Convergence of engineering and IT with the life sciences
Research Centre: Systems Biology Laboratory

A heartbeat is controlled by many biochemical and biomechanical processes at the sub-cellular level. Intracellular calcium plays a central role in causing the cell to mechanically contract during each heartbeat. When the heart is subject to higher long term mechanical loads (as in exercise or cardiac pathologies),  it is hypothesized that it is this same calcium that also tells the cell nucleus to produce more proteins to promote cell growth. This process is termed hypertrophy. The aim of this project is to understand how the same intracellular calcium can control beat-to-beat contraction, as well as cell growth. Understanding this process using novel computational and experimental methods will enhance our ability to provide treatments to patients with hypertrophy related heart diseases. Our insights and computational models will also form the basis of optimising protocols for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine applications.

We seek PostDocs, PhD and Masters applicants with backgrounds in :

applied mathematics: to develop computational models using super-resolution and electron tomography data that can examine the relationship between different calcium releasing sites (RyRs, IP3Rs) and calcium signalling in the cardiac nucleus.

biomechanics: to understand how the cell discriminates the beat-to-beat contraction forces from the forces in longer-term increased mechanical loads to trigger hypertrophy.

biochemistry/systems biology: to develop quantitative signal-pathway models of the interaction between excitation-contraction and hypertrophic signalling pathways. 

computer science/image analysis: to help build sophisticated machine learning and image segmentation algorithms to build innovative 3D computer models of cardiac cells during the growth process. 

Students/PostDocs must have strong skills in computer programming. Interests in numerical algorithms and parallel computation methods would be advantageous.