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Biophysics of Diseases

A biophysical approach to molecular interactions:

Biophysics is an interdisciplinary approach that applies the methods of physics to study biological systems. Specifically, we examine physical properties of molecules that impact cell functioning.  Every molecule has binding partners that form functional cassettes used across cell types.  We apply a broad range of methodologies to reveal how specific molecules interact and function.  Infections and diseases cause physiological changes that adversely affect our health. These pathological changes ultimately occur at the molecular level. Understanding molecular mechanisms common to different cell types may reveal signaling that contribute to the disparate mix of symptoms that underlie specific pathologies occurring at the organismal level. 

  • Model Systems

A broad spectrum of preparations such as viruses, bacteria, neurons, muscle, endocrine, and immune cells as well as stem cells are used to examine protein-protein, protein-lipid, protein-small molecule, RNA-RNA, and/or protein-DNA/RNA interactions. Mathematical models are often used to test biological theories, simulate experimental outcomes and predict consequences of molecular interactions.

  • Methodology

Many of our studies involve quantitative measurements of the behavior of molecules in real time, including: state-of-the art microscopy to visualize calcium signaling and protein interactions, membrane capacitance protocols to monitor vesicle fusion, amperometry and micro-perifusion systems to measure secreted molecules, and electrophysiological techniques to study ion channel activity and membrane excitability.

  • Specific molecular functions of interest play central roles in many infections and diseases.

The following list illustrates some of our interests in molecular processes that associate with well known diseases and/or infections: 

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Calcium signaling

Calcium ion participates virtually every major cellular processes.  Our faculty use high-speed imaging, electrophysiological and genetic approaches to understand the fundamental principles governing calcium-mediated neurotransmitter/hormone secretion and muscle contractility.

Excitation-contraction coupling

Half of our body is made of striated and smooth muscle cells.  The primary role of the muscle cells is to generate force or move in response to different internal or external stimuli.  Our faculty study the mechanisms by which different stimuli contract and relax muscle cells.

Smooth muscle motility diseases

An appropriate level of smooth muscle contraction and relaxation is essential for the homeostasis of all organs.  A hypo- or hyper-contractile smooth muscle causes or contributes to the pathogenesis of many diseases or disorders.  Our faculty investigate smooth muscle motility disorders including asthma, preterm labor and incontinence.