Can you describe your area of expertise?
In simple terms, I research how electrical signals drive function of certain cells and tissues in the body, like those in the heart for example, and how drugs affect those cells and tissues. Many organs with seemingly different functions, are governed by electrical signals. To understand them, I combine traditional lab science with mathematical modeling and most recently with modern data science techniques including AI.
My expertise is in electrophysiology and pharmacology, with a focus on electrically excitable cells and tissues found in the heart, brain, and pancreas. I explore how electrical impulses control functions like muscle contraction, neuronal firing and hormone release, and how these responses are modulated by drugs. My approach blends disciplines, merging my background in experimental physiology with modeling and simulation. This interdisciplinary approach is now expanding to include aspects of data science (machine learning and artificial intelligence), particularly where larger datasets are available.
What’s your current focus?
Pancreatic Islet Function: I'm collaborating with experts from University of Edmonton, Simula, and the University of California Berkeley to understand how the pancreas releases insulin by studying variability in the responses of individual cells and how that variability determines behaviour of the tissue. This research may lead to improved diabetes treatments.
Cardiac Pharmacology: I'm involved in several projects that evaluate the safety and effectiveness of heart-related drugs. This work not only improves drugs but also streamlines development, saving time and money.
What’s the practical application and impact on society?
My research contributes to science in several ways. While my work on pancreatic islets expands our knowledge and may lead to new disease treatments, the cardiac pharmacology projects are closer to practical use. These projects can influence regulatory decisions that seek to ensure drug safety, and provide pharmaceutical companies with accurate tools to predict cardiac outcomes. This, in turn, can speed up drug development and reduce costs.
I'm excited about the potential real-world impact of this research, from helping people with diabetes to enhancing drug safety and development in cardiology.
What are the challenges in your field from your perspective?
The field's medical applications are being rapidly reshaped by two technologies: human-derived pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) and artificial intelligence (AI). I’m certainly not alone in feeling that the momentum behind both technologies has made it inevitable that they will constitute big efforts and challenges in this field (and others) for some time to come. Both technologies bring tremendous promise and uncertainty.
In medicine and pharmaceutical development uncertainty is a major challenge, and for valid reasons, both face strict regulatory oversight. All stakeholders are actively exploring how hiPSCs and AI can be applied to improve medical standard of care and pharmaceutical practices, both with far-reaching implications. However, both technologies also hold implications large enough that even the conceptual frameworks for establishing trust are poorly defined. Establishing those trust frameworks is the critical first step to unlock their potential. I think the existing clinical trial standard (that new technologies or treatments improve on existing standard of care) is a good starting point, but there will be many specific cases that require new or different standards to be developed.
What advice would you give to those looking to pursue a career in your field?
Pay attention to and protect your motivation. It's the most important currency for learning and contributing to science. Pay attention to what influences it, and actively make choices to enhance it. It changes with time and is shaped by your environment, the people and topics you surround yourself with, so prioritize it near the top of your list.
Thanks to Andy Edwards for contributing to this researcher profile.
At Simula, we take pride in our people, with over 150 scientific researchers, fostering a collaborative and innovative environment for science research on a mission to solve important and fundamental problems of science and engineering, with the main goal of benefiting and advancing society.