Cardiac Physiology and Biophysics

Division Director

Aleksey Zima, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Cell and Molecular Physiology
Research Focus: Defining the mechanisms that control calcium homeostasis and excitation-contraction coupling in the heart. Currently, the laboratory focuses on the molecular mechanisms that cause ryanodine receptor dysfunction during oxidative stress and how this may contribute to abnormal cardiac function during pathologies such as heart failure

Division Faculty

Dave Barefield, Ph.D.

  • Assistant Professor, Cell and Molecular Physiology
  • Research focus: My laboratory studies how inherited mutations in genes that regulate cardiac rhythm and contractility cause disease. Our major focus is to understand how mutations affect heart cells in the cardiac atria and in cells that comprise the cardiac conduction system. We use small animal and cell culture models to study specific mutations and evaluate physiological changes and then identify cellular and molecular mechanics of disease. Some of the major tools the lab uses include whole-animal echocardiography, isolated heart 4D optical mapping, single cardiomyocyte force measurements, and computational analysis of large transcriptomics data sets.

Jordan Beach, Ph.D.

  • Assistant Professor, Cell and Molecular Physiology
  • Research focus: My work focuses primarily on how cells build contractile units with spatio-temporal fidelity. This includes non-muscle myosin 2 filament assembly during cell migration and cell division as well as muscle myosin 2 filament assembly (myofibrillogenesis) during development.  Our primary technique is high-resolution quantitative live-cell imaging.

Ken Byron, Ph.D.

  • Professor, Molecular Pharmacology and Therapeutics
  • Research focus: Signal transduction and regulation of intracellular calcium; mechanisms involved in the generation and regulation of action potentials in vascular smooth muscle cells; ion channel regulation in vascular and airway smooth muscle cells; fluorescence measurements of intracellular ion concentrations, patch clamp electrophysiology, protein biochemistry, image analysis of isolated and in situ blood vessel diameter, precision-cut lung slices, in vivo measurement of blood pressure and flow.

W. Keith Jones, Ph.D.

  • Professor and Chair, Molecular Pharmacology and Therapeutics
  • Research focus: Our laboratory studies the molecular basis of cardiovascular disease and molecular interventions designed as therapeutic measures. Previous work in the lab has elucidated a gene network comprised of 238 genes activated or repressed by the transcription factor NF-kB. Interestingly, most of these genes are regulated by a set of only nine microRNAs (mRNAs), which can be manipulated by transfection with mimics (gain of function), and antagomirs (loss of function). This approach can be used to dissect the role of each miRNA in gene regulation, cardioprotection, and post-myocardial infarction ventricular function and remodeling.

Pete Kekenes-Huskey, Ph.D.

  • Associate Professor, Cell and Molecular Physiology
  • Research focus: My laboratory uses computational and experimental techniques to probe how cells function in diverse scenarios. We specifically develop and apply computational, biophysics-based tools to probe cardiac and inflammatory functions from single atoms to entire tissue. These tools include computer vision and numerical algorithms, molecular simulations, and applied mathematics as unique approaches to understanding living systems across broad time and spatial scales. These computational aims are accompanied by wet-lab experiments examining protein and cellular function via biochemical and microscopy techniques. 

Jonathan Kirk, Ph.D.

  • Associate Professor, Cell and Molecular Physiology
  • Research focus: How the myofilament is regulated by protein post-translational modifications during disease. We use biophysical assays and proteomics to study the myofilament during cardiac dyssynchrony, diabetic cardiomyopathy, hypertrophy, heart failure, and other diseases.

Ivana Kuo, Ph.D.

  • Assistant Professor, Cell and Molecular Physiology
  • Research Focus:  We are interested in intracellular calcium signals that arise outside of the traditional excitation-contraction pathway. One protein of interest is polycystin 2-an intracellular calcium channel modifier responsible for cystic kidneys, but also an important regulatory protein in the heart. A second research focus is cross-talk between organs in pathogenesis, particularly signaling mechanisms between the heart and the kidney in cardiac and renal failure. We use biochemical, electrophysiological, isolated cardiomyocyte, and in vivo rodent models to explore these issues. 

Ruben Mestril, Ph.D.

  • Professor, Cell and Molecular Physiology
  • Research focus: The function of the heat shock proteins in mammalian cells and more specifically their protective role in both cardiac and skeletal muscle cells during stress.

Gregory Mignery, Ph.D.

  • Professor, Cell and Molecular Physiology
  • Research focus: The role of calcineurin-NFATc signaling pathway and inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptor-mediated calcium release in cardiac remodeling during hypertrophy and heart failure.

Patrick Oakes, Ph.D.

  • Assistant Professor, Cell and Molecular Physiology
  • Research focus: Our lab investigates how cells generate, interpret, and use mechanical signals to regulate their behavior. Mechanical signals underlie most fundamental cellular processes. Without them, cells would be unable to divide, change shape, move, or even form multicellular tissues. We are particularly interested in the actin cytoskeleton and its associated binding proteins and motors which drive the majority of these processes. Our primary approach leverages high-resolution quantitative microscopy in conjunction with techniques like optogenetics and micro patterning. 

Seth Robia, Ph.D.

  • Co-director, Cardiovascular Research Institute
  • Professor, Cell and Molecular Physiology
  • Research Focus: How the heart muscle responds to the varying demands of exercise and rest, and how it becomes disordered in disease states. Of particular interest are the dynamic interactions of membrane proteins (such as SERCA) with their regulatory partners (such as phospholamban).