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  • Christopher Toepfer

 

about the research

Our group is interested in uncovering and understanding key mechanisms of disease that affect cardiac muscle function. We have a particular interest in understanding how regulation of cardiac muscle contraction is altered in common acquired and inherited cardiovascular diseases.

We do this by using cutting edge techniques in cellular imaging, employing human induced pluripotent stem cell derived cardiomyocytes (iPSC-CMs), and CRISPR/Cas-9 to understand human cardiovascular disease in the dish.

We have two key focuses in the lab:

1) Understanding how inherited heart conditions including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) alter cardiomyocyte function. We do this by using CRISPR Cas-9 genome engineering in combination with iPSC-CMs to screen how HCM and DCM causing variants cause disease. We can then use these systems to screen novel therapeutics in the dish. We have designed multiple techniques to make these analyses feasible and rapidly deployable: SarcTrack and CalTrack.

2) Investigate the processes that alter cardiac muscle function in acquired cardiac diseases including myocardial infarction, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure. We are able to use biochemical techniques twinned with fluorescent imaging to assess how cardiac myosin states are altered in disease tissues. This technology allows us to uncover key disease mechanisms that alter heart muscle function, allowing insight into these common heart muscle diseases. 

We have multiple key collaborations within the University of Oxford and internationally. Together we focus on pushing the boundaries of understanding in acquired and inherited cardiovascular disorders of the heart muscle.

Additional supervision will be provided by Professor Hugh Watkins.

training opportunities

Within the group we have an inclusive and diverse set of researchers who have a wide range of cutting-edge expertise. Within the wider lab environment and our collaboration network we have over 20 researchers in this area.

 Scientific training opportunities in the lab include but are not limited to:

  1. Induced pluripotent stem cell culture.
  2. Techniques for iPSC to cardiomyocyte differentiation.
  3. CRISPR/Cas-9 genome engineering.
  4. PCR and genetic sequencing.
  5. A wide range of standard fluorescent microscopy and confocal microscopy.
  6. Phenotyping of cardiomyocyte function with fluorescent probes and genetically encoded protein tags.
  7. RNA sequencing and qPCR.
  8. Western blotting and phosphoprotein blotting techniques.
  9. Drug screening using live cell microscopy.

Transferrable skills include but are not limited to:

  1. Learning to interact with MatLab and other computing packages for automating and simplifying data analysis.
  2. Using genome viewers and associated software for designing and executing CRISPR/Cas-9 engineering.
  3. Presentation skills for effectively communicating your research at informal group meetings and within larger departmental meetings and conferences.

Students are encouraged to attend the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine DPhil Course, which takes place in the autumn of their first year. Running over several days, this course helps students to develop basic research and presentation skills, as well as introducing them to a wide range of scientific techniques and principles, ensuring that students have the opportunity to build a broad-based understanding of differing research methodologies.

Generic skills training is offered through the Medical Sciences Division's Skills Training Programme. This programme offers a comprehensive range of courses covering many important areas of researcher development: knowledge and intellectual abilities, personal effectiveness, research governance and organisation, and engagement, influence, and impact. Students are actively encouraged to take advantage of the training opportunities available to them.

 As well as the specific training detailed above, students will have access to a wide range of seminars and training opportunities through the many research institutes and centres based in Oxford.

The Department has a successful mentoring scheme, open to graduate students, which provides an additional possible channel for personal and professional development outside the regular supervisory framework. We hold an Athena SWAN Silver Award in recognition of our efforts to build a happy and rewarding environment where all staff and students are supported to achieve their full potential.

 

publications

1

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy mutations in MYBPC3 dysregulate myosin Science Translational Medicine 2019 

2

Myosin Sequestration Regulates Sarcomere Function, Cardiomyocyte Energetics, and Metabolism, Informing the Pathogenesis of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Circulation 2020

3

SarcTrack

An Adaptable Software Tool for Efficient Large-Scale Analysis of Sarcomere Function in hiPSC-Cardiomyocytes Circulation Research 2019

4

CalTrack: High-Throughput Automated Calcium Transient Analysis in CardiomyocytesCirculation Research 2021

5

Common genetic variants and modifiable risk factors underpin hypertrophic cardiomyopathy susceptibility and expressivity Nature Genetics 2021