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Rebecca A B Burton


Academic Visitor

 A variety of cardiac arrhythmias have been attributed to formation of large scale patterns of excitation such as the formation and break up of spiral waves. Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality, for which pharmacologic approaches for rate or rhythm control remain suboptimal. Unravelling the onset and maintenance of atrial arrhythmias depends on details such as geometry, electrical state, anisotropic cellular and subcellular structures. Research has suggested an important role for calcium-dysregulation in AF. To improve our mechanistic understanding, our lab uses a multi-disciplinary approach, ranging from conventional electrophysiology to, state-of-the-art tissue engineering and optogenetics, and development of novel high speed optical microscopy techniques. The results will allow a better understanding of the basic biological mechanisms of sub-cellular calcium signalling and the aetiology of AF directly relevant in the development of new treatment therapies.

BACKGROUND: I am a physiologist with an interest in applying bioengineering methods to answer cardiac biophysical questions about causes and consequences of arrhythmias. Following an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and Biology (first class with distinction), I obtained an MSc in Pharmacology and Biotechnology from Sheffield Hallam University (2003). I then joined the Oxford Cardiac Mechano-Electric Feedback Group of Professor Denis Noble and Professor Peter Kohl as a Lab Manager and Research Assistant. Remaining with the same team, I was awarded one of the coveted Oxford Overseas Research Scholarships to support my studies towards a DPhil in Cardiac Physiology (2010). In parallel, I completed an MBA, with Merit (2008).

My graduate research was focused on developing high-resolution, histo-anatomically detailed reconstructions of whole mammalian hearts, to support individualised structure-function modelling. In 2011 I moved to work in the laboratory of Dr Gil Bub and Prof David Paterson supported by the BHF CRE. My postdoctoral work focused primarily on (i) understanding the influence of neural activation on cardiac arrhythmogenesis using in vitro cardiac-neuron co-culture systems (ii) application of novel dye-free optical methods and optogenetics for actuation and sensing of electromechanical function in cultured cardiac cells and cardiac stem cells.

I am also interested in pharmacological therapies for the treatment of idiopathic tachycardia and heart failure by modulating the funny current 'If'. In 2013, working in collaboration with Professors Derek Terrar, Gil Bub and David Paterson, we filed a patent through Oxford University Innovation for re-purposing Hydroxychloroquine as a ‘funny current’ blocker in the heart. We have since published preclinical work on the multichannel blocking actions of Hydroxychloroquine.

In January 2015 I was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship in Science and Engineering which allowed me to spend time in the Laboratory of Prof Emilia Entcheva at Stony Brook University. In December 2015, I was awarded a Sir Henry Dale Royal Society and Wellcome Trust fellowship to pursue an independent program of research in the Department of Pharmacology. My current and proposed research plans builds on my training and research experience over the last 10-12 years at Sheffield and Oxford involving basic cardiovascular research at the organ, tissue, cellular-levels and translational work in whole animals and patients investigating the causes of arrhthmogenesis.

Along with my research, I am actively involved in teaching. In the past I have been a retained lecturer in Physiology and Medicine at Exeter College and stipendiary lecturer at Oriel College. I am extensively involved in outreach activities at local schools and other public engagement events such as Pint of Science, Royal Society summer science exhibition and summer science schools. Outside the university, I have served as a Trustee  for The Physiological Society (2011-2015) and Oxford Hospitals Charity (2020-2022) .