Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism
This theme is concerned with the regulation and integration of physiological processes and their disturbances in disease. Scientists are based in the departments of Clinical Biochemistry, Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Paediatrics, Pharmacology, Physiology Development and Neuroscience, Veterinary Medicine and Zoology. The Institute of Metabolic Science (www.ims.cam.ac.uk), a newly established cross-departmental research institute partnered with the MRC and NHS, has a major focus on metabolic science and medicine. There are strong links with other Research Themes within the University including Structural and Molecular Cell Biology, Functional Genomics, Systems Biology and Genetic Medicine, Developmental and Regenerative biology and Medicine, Neuroscience, Psychology and Mental Health, Cardiovascular science and medicine, Epidemiology and Public Health, Medical Imaging and Women's Health
Researchers in this theme explore the regulation and integration of processes at the level of cells, organs and whole organisms and use this information to better inform the understanding, treatment and prevention of diseases in humans and animals. In addition to studies of molecular and integrative physiology and pathophysiology in the mature organism, several researchers in this theme study developmental and comparative physiology. The former concerns itself with understanding how the function of physiological control systems emerge and alter from conception to death and how genetic and environmental factors can alter the trajectory of such processes in health and disease. The latter exploits evolutionary biology to gain insights into physiological processes that are either conserved between organisms or adapted to fit particular niches.
Researchers in this theme study a wide range of physiological and pathophysiological processes including cellular homeostasis, energy balance, reproduction, neurobiology and the biology of cardiovascular, respiratory, musculo-skeletal and endocrine systems in a range of organisms including insects, amphibians and mammals including humans.
Some brief examples of where we have internationally leading programmes
Ca2+ signalling in health and disease
Ca2+ Levels of cytosolic Ca2+ concentration control almost every aspect of cellular activity, ranging from fertilization to programmed cell death, and from synaptic neurotransmitter release at synapses to control of muscle contraction. Different extracellular signals control the opening of Ca2+ channels within cell surface membranes, allowing a rapid flow of Ca2+ into the cytosol, or within membranes surrounding intracellular Ca2+ stores, that would similarly elevate cytosolic Ca2+. Conversely, excessive or prolonged increases in cytosolic Ca2+ concentration are toxic underlining the importance of Ca2+ either as a normal intracellular signal or in disease processes. Work in the Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, and the Biochemistry, Pharmacology and Zoology departments are studying the role of Ca2+ ions both in transduction and propagation of signalling events through a wide variety of cell types including blood, secretory, nerve and bone resorptive cells as well as skeletal, cardiac and smooth muscle. The studies take place at the molecular, cellular and systems levels and through interdisciplinary electrophysiological, light/electronmicroscope and magnetic resonance imaging, and mathematical modelling methods. The relevance of these processes to human disease is also extensively explored, for example using genetically modified murine models of disorders of cardiac rhythm that predispose to sudden death.
Obesity is a major and growing public health threat. Scientists at the University, in collaboration with colleagues in local MRC Units and the Wellcome Trust's Sanger Institute, are taking a broad-ranging multidisciplinary approach to this disease. Fundamental studies of the neurobiology of appetite are undertaken in the Institute of Metabolic Science (IMS) on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and in the Department of Pharmacology. IMS scientists studying the regulation of energy expenditure greatly benefit from interactions with the programme of research in mitochondrial biology at the MRC Dunn Nutrition Unit. Studies of the genetics of obesity involve close interaction between the University's Metabolic Research Laboratories (MRL) and the MRC Epidemiology Unit which are co-located in the IMS and with the Sanger Institute. Experimental and translational studies in human obesity benefit greatly from links between the IMS, the Dept of Clinical Neurosciences, the Wolfson Brain imaging Unit. The MRC Epidemiology Unit leads efforts in population science and prevention of obesity and, in these areas, works closely with University scientists in the Epidemiology and Public Health Theme. The MRL hosts the MRC's Centre for Obesity and Related Metabolic Disease, which has its major focus on the causes and metabolic consequences of obesity such as diabetes and also the Wellcome Trust's 4 yr PhD programme in Metabolic and Cardiovascular disease which is run in conjunction with colleagues in the Cardiovascular Science and Medicine Theme.