In October 2018 I flew across the world to the laboratory of Dr David Crossman at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. The goal: to study pathological remodelling in human heart biopsies from patients with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy (IDCM), using the super-resolution imaging technique expansion microscopy (ExM).
Our interest lies in seeing whether nanodomain remodelling observed in a rat model of heart failure in Leeds, including reorganisation of the internal calcium compartments and functional modification to calcium-handling proteins, is also present in end-stage human heart failure. Understanding the mechanisms of remodelling is one of the first steps towards investigating whether they can be targeted for preventative therapies.
ExM is novel imaging technique, enabling super-resolution imaging by spatially separating fluorophores within a swellable hydrogel. The compatibility of ExM gels with standard microscopes enables greater imaging depth and improved axial resolution over competing super-resolution techniques. ExM therefore provides a practical tool to observe remodelling within dyadic calcium release clusters. I was responsible for starting ExM experiments from scratch in a new lab across the world, requiring efficient independent work to obtain meaningful data in the space of just 4 weeks.
It was fantastic to take this journey and work in a laboratory that is home to a strong consortium of leading cardiovascular researchers. In my final week I gave a 30-minute seminar, in which I presented work to the physiology department and the wider bio-imaging facility. This allowed me to reach an international audience and receive valuable feedback on the progression of my research.
Many thanks to the MRC and DiMeN flexible fund grant which made this trip possible, and special thanks to David Crossman for welcoming me into his lab.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @TMDSheard.