Telephone: 01392 727485 or 01392 727463
Extension: (Streatham) 7485 or (Streatham) 7463
I am an MRC-funded research fellow in the Quantitative Biomedical Modelling @ Exeter group, housed with the Living Systems Institute. I work primarily in the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, but work closely with the University of Exeter Medical School In my research, I apply techniques from mathematical modelling (dynamical systems theory, bifurcation analysis) to understand how networks of cells come together to form biological networks that can perform functional tasks. I am particularly interested in spatio-temporal patterns of neural activity in the brain and their role in memory and spatial navigation, and the synchronisation of electrical activity amongst the insulin-secreting beta cells in the pancreas.
Research Themes - Health
My current projects address the formation of oscillatory neural rhythms in two structures of the brain known as the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex. The cells in these structures are crucial for spatial navigation and memory. Defects in the oscillatory rhythms in these areas can be correlated with memory deficits and loss of spatial awareness. Such deficits are seen prominently in various forms of dementia. By understanding how molecular alterations associated with dementias impact upon network rhythms, we aim to uncover specific pharmacological targets to improve treatment for Alzheimers' Disease.
My research into diabetes addresses two key questions. Firstly, how do immune cells infiltrate and destroy the insulin-secreting beta cells during the auto-immune attack in type 1 diabetes? Secondly, how do alterations in intercellular communication between the beta cells impact their ability to secrete sufficient insulin to regulate blood glucose levels? The first of these questions aims to improve treatment for type 1 diabetes by shedding new light on the mechanisms behind the autoimmune response. The second aims to provide new avenues to explore in treatment for type 2 diabetes by understanding how to compensate for the loss of function in the beta cells.
Research Themes - Mathematics
3) Coarse-grained bifurcation analysis
Almost every question one could ask in biology addresses how phenomena at one temporal or spatial scale affect those at another. Linking these often disparate scales provides a difficult mathematical challenge. One potential way to overcome this hurdle is to use our knowledge of dynamics at fine scales to form approximations of behaviours at coarser scales. Once these equations are formed, we then analyse the coarse-grained system using traditional mathematical techniques. Through this process, we then learn about how small-scale perturbations give rise to distinct behaviour at the coarse scale.
Oscillations are ubiquitous in biology. We can observe them on vastly different scales, from those on the order of milliseconds in neurons to those on the order of months and years in diseases such as diabetes. A crucial part of the genesis of rhythms is biology in the synchronisation of activity within networks involving many cells. One way we can attempt to understand the origins of synchrony in such networks, which often arises in the absence of any coordinating group of cells, is to treat the cells as clocks whose natural frequency can be perturbed by other cells in the network. By understanding how biological networks establish robust rhythms, we can hope to find ways to intervene when these important rhythms are disrupted.
I am generously supported by the Medical Reseach Council as a Skills Development Fellow.
I have also received funding from the Society for Endocrinology to support an internship to optimise phase response curve computation in pancreatic beta cells.
Dr. Eder Zavala and Prof. Tsaneva-Atanasova and I hold a Royal Society Newton Mobility Grant to support a collaborative project with Dr. Marco Herrera and Prof. Hiriart (UNAM, Mexico) to study the interaction of stress hormones and metabolism.
Further details of my research projects can be found here.