Ilse van Herck successfully defended her PhD

On May 31, Ilse van Herck successfully defended her PhD thesis "Biophysical and pharmacological properties of small conductance calcium-activated potassium channels".

Main research findings

When you want to move your arm, your brain sends an electrical signal to your muscles to tell them to contract and move. Similarly, each chamber in the heart knows when to contract through an electrical signal. This signal originates from charged ions crossing the membrane of cells in the heart through ion channels. The opening and closing of ion channels can be modulated to alter the propagation of the electrical signal. Changes in gating of ion channels can cause disease but also be a potential treatment.

One ion channel, in particular, the small conductance calcium-activated potassium (SK) channel, is of great interest for the treatment of atrial fibrillation. Inhibition of the SK channel shows promising treatment results in cells and animal models. However, it is complicated to test how the channel is modulated and affects the disease in humans. Therefore, this dissertation presents a combination of new experimental data and consecutive development of computational models of the SK channel and its modulation. Two different compounds inhibit the SK channel via the same main mechanism but differ significantly in affecting other SK channel components. This behaviour was observed in experiments and replicated in computational models enabling simulations and further research.

The work has been conducted at Simula Research Laboratory and the University of Oslo.

Prior to the defence, Ilse van Herck presented her trial lecture «Computational Physiology of Hippocampus Dependent Learning and Memory».

The PhD defence and trial lecture were fully digital.

Adjudication committee:

  • Professor Heike Wulff, University of California, Davis, USA
  • Associate professor Jonathan Silva, Washington University, St. Louis, USA
  • Professor Are Magnus Bruaset, Department of Informatics, University of Oslo and Simula Research Laboratory, Norway


  • Professor Aslak Tveito, Department of Informatics, University of Oslo and Simula Research Laboratory, Norway
  • Professor Andrew Edwards, Simula Research Laboratory / University of California, Davis, USA
  • Research Professor Mary Maleckar, Simula Research Laboratory, Norway
  • Dr. Jussi Koivumäki, Tampere University of Technology, Finland
  • Dr. Hermenegild Arevalo, Simula Research Laboratory

Chair of defence

  • Professor Andreas Austeng, Department of Informatics, UiO