Center for the Investigation of Membrane Excitability Diseases (CIMED)

Mission

Addressing heart disease, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, neurological and muscle disorders and more

Every movement, every thought and every heartbeat is the response to electrical signals in our tissues. CIMED's mission is to understand how electrical signalling works and how malfunctions cause disease.

Goals

Define the cellular and molecular mechanisms linking genetic variants in electrical signaling pathways to disease

Recognize commonalities among diseases and, where possible, apply effective solutions broadly

Identify novel therapies

Provide innovative and interdisciplinary training

Jeanne Nerbonne, PhD, and Colin Nichols, PhD

Directors: Jeanne Nerbonne, PhD, and Colin Nichols, PhD

cimed.wustl.edu

We are in a position to make important advances in understanding disease mechanisms and in translating these insights into better treatments for a wide range of major diseases.

— Colin Nichols, PhD

Overview

Many of the body's fundamental functions are the result of electrical signals in our tissues, transmitted by cell structures called ion channels. Malfunctions in electrical signaling underlie many of the world’s most prevalent and most debilitating diseases, such as heart arrhythmias, diabetes, epilepsy and other neurological disorders, muscle disorders, sudden infant death syndrome and more. The Center for the Study of Membrane Excitability Diseases (CIMED) brings together scientists from many disciplines to understand how ion channels work and how their malfunctions cause disease.

Ion channels are pores found in the membranes of all cells. These specialized structures select particular electrically charged molecules, or ions, and pass them through the cell membrane. Because ions are electrically charged, their movement across cell membranes creates electrical activity — membrane excitation — that controls key events within living cells, including nerve communication, muscle contraction, heartbeat, hormone secretion, cell division and immune function.

Many diseases are linked to genetic mutations and dysfunction of the proteins that make up ion channels, even in cells not generally thought of as excitable. Because a particular type of ion channel can be located in many different tissues, single gene mutations can lead to complex diseases that affect multiple organ systems. The rare inherited disorders Timothy Syndrome and Andersen's Syndrome, for example, are caused by single mutations in ion channel genes, but these mutations affect the heart, skeletal muscle and nervous systems.

Research Topics

CIMED scientists combine expertise in physiology and pathophysiology with advanced tools in biochemistry, electrophysiology, imaging and genomics. Their ultimate goal is to make important advances in understanding ion channel malfunctions common to many diseases and to translate these insights into improved treatments and therapeutics that can be applied broadly. They also hope to identify links to diseases not previously known to be related to electrical signaling.

Research topics include:

  • Defining how normal ion channels function

  • Defining the abnormal changes that result from genetic mutations linked to multiple diseases, including cardiac arrhythmias and heart disease, diabetes, Fragile-X syndrome, spinocerebellar ataxia, epilepsy and asthma

  • Identifying the ion channels expressed in different cells and organs and the factors that control expression

  • Using advanced imaging techniques to determine how ion channel proteins function and to uncover the interactions with other cellular proteins and structures

Leadership

Director: Colin Nichols, PhD, Carl F. Cori Professor and professor of cell biology and physiology

Co-Director: Jeanne Nerbonne, PhD, Alumni Endowed Professor of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology in Developmental Biology and professor of medicine