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Frances Brook

BSc (Hons), DPhil

Senior Postdoctoral Researcher

My research involves the application of stem cell technologies to the study of cardiovascular disease. Cardiomyopathies resulting from genetic mutations are difficult to study in the laboratory as patient cardiomyocytes are seldom available. Stem cells can be derived from patient biopsies and differentiated into cardiomyocytes to model the disease in vitro. To do this, I derive fibroblast cell lines from patient skin biopsies and then re-program these cells to become induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSC) using virally encoded genes. The IPSC can be differentiated into many types of cell, but I am interested in turning them into cardiomyocytes. This involves changing the culture conditions and adding small molecules to modulate the signalling pathways in the cell. Success is easily recognised as the cells beat spontaneously in the dish. The IPSC-derived cardiomyocytes show many features of the patient disease, such as slow or irregular beating, and we can study the electrophysiology and in particular the movement of calcium into and out of the cells. By applying drugs to the IPSC-derived cardiomyocytes we aim to ameliorate the defective functioning of the cells and model the effect of drugs as treatment for the disease.

I have come from a background in developmental biology, working with pre-implantation mouse embryos.This led on to deriving and studying mouse embryonic stem cells, and from there I moved into the human field and made several human embryonic stem cell lines, working at the Nuffield Dept Obstetrics & Gynaecology here in Oxford. It was a logical step to progress from there to deriving IPSC.