Physiology & Biophysics Research

Our physiology & biophysics researchers detail the function of individual molecules (enzymes, transporters, etc.) to determine how these molecules operate and are controlled within cells, tissues and organs to generate the high-level biological processes fundamental to our normal body functions. Our faculty is engaged in research studies that range from the structure-function of individual molecules to the operation of organ systems, identifying both disease distortions and potential therapeutic interventions. Our working translational endpoints include cardiovascular, neurological and infectious diseases, as well as skeletal muscle myopathies and even cancer.

The Department of Physiology & Biophysics is divided into the following sections and labs:

Section of Cellular Signaling

The Section of Cellular Signaling is an environment of collaboration, where equipment, financial resources, ideas and experiences are shared. It “vertically” integrates researchers working on the many aspects of signaling.

  • Atomic level, where the tools are mostly of a modeling and computational nature
  • Molecular level, with single channel experimental and modeling work
  • Organellar/subcellular level, largely studies of sarco/endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondria
  • Cellular level
  • Tissular level
  • Organ (heart) levels
  • Oganismal studies, including translation to disease in humans

With a large grant from the NIH the section purchased a unique tool (Dual Confocal Scanner) for its shared laboratories. It also maintains an interdisciplinary journal club, which has operated continuously since 2004, as one of its prime means of training and collaboration.


Laboratory of Xun Ai, MD. Ai’s research is focused on understanding the mechanisms of cardiac arrhythmias, especially atrial fibrillation (AF) in the aging heart per se and in the aged heart with co-existing cardiovascular diseases.

Laboratory of Lothar Blatter, PhD. Blatter’s research focuses on calcium regulation and signaling in the heart and the cardiovascular system, and includes fundamental characterization of ion transporters and channels, electrophysiology, excitation-contraction coupling, mitochondrial Ca signaling and energetics, excitation-transcription coupling and changes in Ca signaling in cardiac disease (arrhythmia, hypertrophy and heart failure), using high-resolution imaging techniques, electrophysiological methods and molecular biology approaches.

Faculty members Jaime DeSantiago, PhD and Giedrius Kanaporis, PhD contribute to this research.

Laboratory of Wayne Chen, PhD. Our current research interests focus on how Ca release channels (ryanodine receptors and inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptors) function and their roles in health and disease. We study these channels at the molecular, cellular, intact organ and whole animal levels using a number of cutting-edge approaches.

Laboratory of Fredric Cohen, PhD. Our laboratory’s research is directed toward two separate areas:

  • The molecular mechanisms viruses use to deposit their genetic material into cells, a process that initiates infection
  • Determining how the chemical potential of cholesterol in cellular plasma membranes regulates cellular inflammation and cancer metastasis

Faculty members Artem Ayuyan, PhD and Ruben Markosyan, PhD contribute to this research.

Laboratory of Thomas DeCoursey, PhD. The DeCoursey lab studies voltage-gated proton channels (proteins in cell membranes), which are important in killing of pathogens by white blood cells, histamine secretion and sperm maturation. Our research spans submolecular functions of channel proteins with designed mutations, up to biological roles of the channels in cancer cells.

Faculty Vladimir Cherny, PhD, Tatiana Iastrebova and Deri Morgan, PhD contribute to this research.

Laboratory of Robert Eisenberg, PhD. The Eisenberg laboratory is focused on using physics, chemistry and mathematics to understand how ion channels and enzymes work. According to Dr. Eisenberg: “My collaborators and I bring physics, chemistry and mathematics to the understanding of ions in and near channels, proteins, enzymes, nucleic acids and electrodes in batteries. The electric field forces everything to interact with everything else and we use mathematics that deals with that reality to predict actual experimental results, sometimes before the experiments are done.”

Laboratory of Michael Fill, PhD. Fill’s research explores the local control of intracellular Ca signals mediated by ryanodine receptor Ca release channel in excitable cells. These control mechanisms are fundamental to many cellular phenomena and are thus often sites of pathological failure and potential targets for therapeutic intervention.

Faculty Alma Nani and John Tang, PhD contribute to this research.

Laboratory of Dirk Gillespie, PhD. The goal of Gillespie’s lab is to use modeling, simulations and theory to understand biological processes. The lab focuses mainly on calcium movement during heart muscle contraction (excitation-contraction coupling) to understand the normal process. The lab also investigates what leads to cardiac arrhythmias and how certain antiarrhythmic drugs work (and possibly design better ones).

Faculty member Claudio Berti contributes to this research.

Laboratory of Joel Michael, PhD. Michael’s research revolves around a set of questions about how students learn physiology and how teachers can most effectively facilitate that learning. According to Michael: “My current study focuses on the use of core concepts in physiology to improve student learning.”

Laboratory of Josefina Ramos-Franco, MD, PhD. Ramos-Franco’s research involves the phenomenon of intracellular Ca2+ release in excitable cells. Specifically the lab focuses on understanding Ca2+ release mediated by IP3R channels and its mechanism(s) of local Ca2+ control in cells. To this end, her lab uses a multidisciplinary approach from the cellular to the molecular levels. This approach is based on the use of site-directed mutagenesis, laser-scanning confocal microscopy and ion channel reconstitution into planar lipid bilayers.

Faculty member Yuriana Aguilar, PhD and Weidong Yang, MD contributes to this research.

Laboratory of Eduardo Rios, PhD. The laboratory of Eduardo Rios works on the mechanisms of control of rapid calcium signals in excitable cells. These signals are crucial to many cells, but the lab focuses on their roles and controls in striated muscle, skeletal and cardiac, where they rule contraction.

Faculty Carolina Figueroa, PhD and Carlo Manno, PhD contribute to this research.

Laboratory of Thomas Shannon, PhD. Thomas Shannon is interested in ionic channels, voltage-gated ionic channels, fluorescence signal detection and electrophysiology, particularly as they relate to excitation-contraction coupling in striated muscle. Shannon uses multiple biochemical, biophysical and molecular approaches to study the control of the concentration of calcium ([Ca]) in the storage organelle (the sarcoplasmic reticulum) of normal and abnormal cells of the heart.

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