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Bristol academic receives Wolfson award

Press release issued: 11 May 2011

Professor Mark Cannell, Chair in Cardiac Cell Biology at the University of Bristol’s School of Physiology and Pharmacology, has received one of the Royal Society’s most prestigious awards, a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award.

Professor Mark Cannell, Chair in Cardiac Cell Biology in the University’s School of Physiology and Pharmacology received the award for his work on computing and seeing a new solution to problems in the heart.

The awards are given by the Royal Society ‘to individuals of proven outstanding ability to undertake independent, original research’.  Professor Cannell is one of seven scientists who took up their awards at institutions across the UK from the beginning of May.

Although the general properties of calcium metabolism are better understood in heart cells than in most other cell types, large gaps in understanding exist and this has led to worldwide efforts to clarify how the heart cell regulates intracellular calcium.  This is especially important for the heart as deficiencies in calcium signaling lead to severe clinical problems such as heart failure and heart arrhythmias.

In his work Professor Cannell is trying to integrate knowledge of the biophysics of calcium movements within the cell with detailed structural information as to the locations of the proteins that are involved in regulating calcium levels.

This will be achieved by a combination of computational approaches and biophysics to clarify how calcium interacts with the cell membrane and cause electrical changes that lead to cardiac arrhythmias as well as how changes in electrical activity lead to abnormal calcium handling.

Professor Cannell, speaking about his research, said: “If we can put the brakes on a runaway disease process, we may give the cell a chance to back up and become healthy again.”

It is likely that a large part of the problem of heart failure resides in a maladaption of the working heart cell (where the cell responds inappropriately to increasing stress) and if scientists can prevent the progress of the maladaption by suitable therapy the cell will have the opportunity to change the trajectory of cell adaption towards being normal and recovery.

Jointly funded by the Wolfson Foundation and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award scheme aims to provide universities with additional support to enable them to attract to this country or to retain respected scientists of outstanding achievement and potential.


Further information

The Royal Society is the UK’s national academy of science. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as a provider of independent scientific advice, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency. Our expertise is embodied in the Fellowship, which is made up of the finest scientists from the UK and beyond. Our goals are:

· Invest in future scientific leaders and in innovation;
· Influence policymaking with the best scientific advice;
· Invigorate science and mathematics education;
· Increase access to the best science internationally;
· Inspire an interest in the joy, wonder and excitement of scientific discovery.

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