Research - Structural and Molecular Cell Biology - School of Biosciences

MCSH research

Our research vision is to understand fundamental mechanisms of biology underpinning health.

We are working to discover mechanisms underlying:

  • RNA biology from nonsense-mediated decay and nuclear protein translation, to gene splicing and non-coding RNAs;
  • cell communication and signaling, including signaling at the membrane by tyrosine kinase receptors (RTKs, FGFRb), G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), serine/threonine kinase receptors (e.g. TGFb/ActivinA receptors), tetraspanins, ADAM, G-Protein Coupled Receptors, Toll-family receptors and neurotrophin ligands;
  • the endocytic pathway in receptor signalling; downstream signaling pathways regulating the actin cytoskeleton (e.g. Rho GTPAses),  phosphorylation, Ca2+ signaling, autophagy, apoptosis and proliferation;
  • transcription factors that regulate these events and their regulatory gene networks;
  • metabolism in healthy ageing, in inflammatory, immunological and hormone-based changes during the life course.

We investigate how these mechanisms control cell number, cell shape, cell size, and how cells interact with each other, in eukaryotic cells, from the simpler yeast to stem cells and to neurons, in development, in the brain, upon injury, in regeneration and in disease.

Our findings in fundamental biology have an impact also to understand disease, regeneration and repair, most particularly:

  • tumour growth and cancer, including leukemias;
  • cardiovascular disease;
  • infertility;
  • responses to injury and cell damage;
  • brain diseases, pluripotency and differentiation. 

What are SMALPS?

Collaborations in Birmingham, UK and Internationally

Our collaborations:

With our varied expertise with an epicenter in modern molecular cell biology, we collaborate effectively to supervise our Master, PhD students and post-docs, and deliver research excellence, bringing together complimentary areas of expertise to address complex questions.

For instance:

  • Debbie Cunningham, John Heath, Neil Hotchin and Mike Tomlinson are working together combining cell biology, proteomics and bioinformatics to understand how protein tyrosine phosphatases control novel intracellular signalling pathways that regulate cell adhesion to the extracellular matrix;
  • Chris Bunce and Farhat Khanim have long-standing collaborations;
  • Helen Cooper jointly supervises PhD students with John Heath and Rick Dunn;
  • Alicia Hidalgo regularly interacts with Mark Wheatley and Steve Publicover;
  • and the Drosophila teams of Saverio Brogna, Yun Fan, Alicia Hidalgo, Carolina Rezaval and Matthias Soller regularly share know-how and co-supervise each other’s PhD students.

Across campus collaborations:

We have close links and collaborations with groups in the School of Biosciences, Medical School, Institute of Biomedical Research, at the University of Birmingham. For instance:

  • Saverio Brogna is also affiliated to the Institute of Microbiology and Infection (IMI).
  • Juliet Coates is also a member of the Plant Science and Food Security research area, and undertakes Food Security Research.
  • Chris Bunce and Farhat Khanim have longstanding collaborations with Mark Drayson from the University of Birmingham Medical School.
  • Farhat Khanim has a number of ongoing collaborations with investigators interested in other diseases and health problems including head and neck cancers with Professor Hisham Mahenna in the Medical school and screening for drugs that may overcome antibiotic resistance with Professor Ian Henderson in The University of Birmingham Institute of Microbiology and Infection (IMI). Farhat continues to collaborate with Professor Mark Drayson with whom she shares a Bloodwise programme grant.
  • Helen Cooper is an affiliate member of the Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research.
  • The Drosophila group is formed of four research teams at the School of Biosciences – Saverio Brogna, Yun Fan, Alicia Hidalgo and Matthias Soller - who have close interactions with two further teams at the IBR in the Medical School, of Paul Badenhurst and Richard Tuxworth.
  • Saverio Brogna, Yun Fan, Alicia Hidalgo, and Aditi Kahere, are part of Birmingham Center for Genomics Research (BCGB), which brings together genomics and genetics experts from the College of Life and Environmental Sciences and the College of Medical and Dental Sciences. 
  • Warwick Dunn is theme lead for systems biology and metabolomics in the MRC Arthritis Research UK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing, a joint University of Birmingham-University of Nottingham collaboration. He is affiliated to the Institute for Metabolism and Systems Research and collaborates with (NIHR) Centre for Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology.
  • Neil Hotchin has a long-standing collaboration with Fedor Berditchevski in the School of Cancer Sciences and more recently has collaborated with Roy Bicknell in the Institute of Biomedical Research and Jim Tucker in the School of Chemistry.
  • Alicia Hidalgo collaborates with Professor Ann Logan and Martin Berry
  • Mike Tomlinson and Carol Murphy are affiliated with the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences in the Medical School. 
  • Mike Tomlinson collaborates with Natalie Poulter, Yotis Senis, Steve Thomas and Steve Watson (Medical School) on platelet receptor signalling (joint programme grant and European International Training Network applications); Ed Rainger (Medical School) on the role of tetraspanins and ADAM10 in inflammation (joint PhD students); Natalie Poulter (Medical School) on the role of tetraspanins and ADAM10 on platelets (joint PhD student).

International and UK collaborations:

Our research teams are involved in a wide variety of collaborations, including in UK (Cambridge, Liverpool, Aston University, Essex, Dundee, Durham), Europe (Germany, Greece, Portugal, Spain),  and internationally (Colombia, Japan, Malawi, Australia, China, USA).

  • Helen Cooper collaborates with researchers at the National Physical Laboratory, Florida State University, Texas A&M University and Universite d-Aix-Marseille, and with Thermo Fisher, Advion, Waters, Owlstone and Astra Zeneca.
  • Warwick Dunn collaborates with the University of Georgia, Mayo Clinic, Thermo Fisher Scientific and HighChem.
  • Yun Fan collaborates with colleagues at the University of Warwick, Imperial College London in UK, the University of Massachusetts Medical School in USA and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in China.
  • Alicia Hidalgo has a long standing collaboration with the University of Cambridge, and collaborates with researchers at the RIKEN centre, Japan, University of Ibague, Colombia and University of Würzburg, Germany.
  • Neil Hotchin is part of an ongoing collaboration with colleagues in Birmingham, Liverpool and Bordeaux, which aims to understand the underlying mechanisms behind progression of Glioma from low to high grade disease.
  • Farhat Khanim is leading a pre-clinical study in collaboration with a team at the University of Sheffield that has state of the art models of the destructive interaction of Myeloma cells with bone, funded by a Bloodwise Project grant.
  • Mike Tomlinson is co-investigator on a British Heart Foundation project grant Hull York Medical School, and also collaborates with colleagues at the University of Wurzburg, Germany.

Translational research:

Our research is primarily focused on the molecular mechanisms of fundamental biology underpinning health, and we actively seak to realize the translational potential of our findings. For instance,

  • Understanding fundamental mechanisms of GPCR signalling (Prof Mark Wheatley) is of great interest to the pharmaceutical industry as it may aid rational drug design in the future.
  • After unravelling the gene network underlying the glial regenerative response to central nervous system injury in fruit-flies, Dr Hidalgo’s team tested its involvement in the mammalian response to spinal cord injury in collaboration with Prof. Ann Logan, leader of the Neurotrauma Research Group at the Medical School.
  • Prof. Chris Bunce has always performed highly translational research seeking to improve outcomes for patients with blood cancers. His work in collaboration with Mark Drayson from the University of Birmingham Medical school has given rise to clinical trials using drug redeployment, in Leukaemia and Lymphoma. This has led to wider interest in the potential of drug redeployment, and within our Cells and Molecules area this is being driven forward by Farhat Khanim. Their goal is to develop early intervention/preventionist strategies by identifying premalignant conditions and stratifying these into patients with high risk or low risk of progression to malignancy, as this will not only save lifes but also have health- and socio- economic impact.
  • Through Phenome Centre - Birmingham, Warwick Dunn is providing the workflow to identify metabolic markers for stratified medicine to improve patient treatment and reduce NHS costs