British Heart Foundation – Lunch and Learn Talk

On the 15th June 2021, Dr Alan Stewart gave a Lunch and Learn talk for the British Heart Foundation based upon his research.

The talk was entitled “Could zinc be the key to new diabetes treatments?” and featured a small quiz. The audience was made up of fundraisers and other BHF staff based throughout the UK.

BHF Project Grant Awarded to Samantha Pitt: Cellular zinc is at the heart of sarcoplasmic reticulum calcium leak in cardiac muscle

Dr Samantha Pitt has just been awarded a 3 year BHF project grant to investigate how zinc regulates diastolic calcium leak to drive cardiac dysfunction. This award will enable the talented Amy Dorward to continue her work in this area as a PDRA. The project will use a combination of electrophysiology, molecular biology and cutting-edge microscopy techniques (supervised by Dr Juan Varela, School of Biology) to understand the intrinsic relationship between cardiac cellular Zn2+ and Ca2+-dynamics in the failing heart.

We would like to thank the BHF for their continued support of our research.


Samantha Pitt has been elected as President-Elect for the International Society for Zinc Biology

Dr Samantha Pitt has been elected as President-Elect for the International Society for Zinc Biology (ISZB). The ISZB brings together scientists from around the world in a diversity of fields with a common interest in the structural, biochemical, genetic and physiological aspects of zinc biology. She will serve in this position for 2 years before moving to the role of President of the society in 2023.

UKRI-BBSRC Grant Awarded to Samantha Pitt – High-resolution structure, function and anti-viral inhibition of the SARS-CoV-2 E protein ion channel

Dr Samantha Pitt and partners from University of Dundee (Prof Ulrich Zachariae) and Trinity College Dublin (Prof Martin Caffrey), have recently been awarded a UKRI-BBSRC grant to address problems related to COVID-19. Employing an interdisciplinary approach, the team will use structure-based drug design to accelerate the discovery of drugs to target SARS-CoV2 by enabling focused, rational approaches to design and repurposing. The project aims to i) solve high-resolution crystal-structures of CoV2E (ii) apply computational electrophysiology and in silico screens including cheminformatics/machine learning approaches to identify CoV2E inhibitors from libraries of commercially available and repurposing drugs, and (iii) perform lead validation and further development of inhibitors by electrophysiology and crystallography.



Fatty acids influence blood clotting through modulation of plasma zinc – new publication in Chemical Science

The Metal Ions in Medicine group have just published new data that may shed light on how fats in your blood could affect your health. The paper entitled “Albumin-mediated alteration of plasma zinc speciation by fatty acids modulates blood clotting in type-2 diabetes” has just been accepted for publication in the high impact journal, Chemical Science. In this study, it was found that free fatty acids  influence certain blood clotting characteristics including parameters relating to fibrin clot formation as well as platelet aggregation. It was found that the mechanism of action most likely involves reduction of zinc binding to the protein, serum albumin (the main zinc and fatty acid carrier protein in the blood) and a consequent increase in binding of zinc to proteins that regulate clot formation. The study suggests that this mechanism may contribute to pathogenic clot formation, which is more frequently observed in individuals with disease states marked by elevated plasma fatty acid levels, such as type-2 diabetes, obesity and fatty liver disease.

Dr Samantha Pitt becomes a commitee member of the Scottish Cardiovascular Forum

Dr Samantha Pitt has been invited to become a committee member of the Scottish Cardiovascular Forum to represent the University of St Andrews. The Scottish Cardiovascular Forum was launched in October 1997, with the aim of fostering integration, encouraging collaboration and assisting in the dissemination of information among basic science and clinical cardiovascular researchers in Scotland and further afield.

BioMetals 2020 Meeting

Dr Alan Stewart would like to thank Dr Isabelle Michaud-Soret and all the other organisers of the BioMetals 2020 Meeting which was held between the 6th -10th July 2020. The meeting was originally meant to take place in Grenoble, France but was switched to an online meeting due to the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic. The meeting was well attended – with over 150 delegates from all over the world. Alan gave a talk on his group’s work entitled “Metal ion dyshomeostasis and coagulatory defects in type-1 and type-2 diabetes”.

Our paper in Nature Photonics is now available – Monitoring contractility in cardiac tissue with cellular resolution using biointergrated microlasers

Our latest collaborative work on microlasers as versatile contractility sensors in the heart is out.

Monitoring contractility in cardiac tissue with cellular resolution using biointegrated microlasers” by Marcel Schubert, Lewis Woolfson, Isla R M Barnard, Amy M Dorward, Becky Casement, Andrew Morton, Gavin B Robertson, Paul L Appleton, Gareth B Miles, Carl S Tucker, Samantha J Pitt and Malte C Gather is published in Nature Photonics and available online.

In this work we show that implanted microlasers can scan heart tissue from inside cells.  Tiny lasers were placed inside the heart where they acted as microscopic probes. With every beat of the heart, the colour of light that these lasers emit changed by a small but clearly detectable amount, thus precisely encoding the contractions of the heart cells over time.

Although the research is still in its early days, the present study proves that lasers can resolve fast dynamic processes inside individual live cells and whole hearts.

Our University press release can be found here

Head of BHF Scotland visits St Andrews

James Joplin (back row, 3rd from the left) with researchers from the Stewart, Pitt and Varela research groups

On the 27th February James Joplin, the new Head of BHF Scotland visited the University of St Andrews to see the cutting edge medical and biomedical research carried out at the university. During the visit he met a number of key staff, including Prof Frank Sullivan (Director of Research) and Prof Colin McCowan (Head of Population and Behavioural Science Division). Within the School of Medicine he visited the BHF-funded Stewart, Pitt and Varela labs and met early career researchers from their respective groups. James was also given a tour of the research facilities within the Biomedical Sciences Research Complex and new Willie Russell Laboratories by Prof Terry Smith (Director of the BSRC).

Alan Stewart to be elected as Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology (FRSB)

Alan Stewart is to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology (FRSB) in April.

The Royal Society of Biology is a single unified voice for biology in the UK. The Society’s main aims are to: advise Government and influence policy; advance education and professional development; support its members, and engage and encourage the public interest in the life sciences.

The Society represents a diverse membership of individuals, learned societies and other organisations. Individual members include practising scientists, students at all levels, professionals in academia, industry and education, and non-professionals with an interest in biology.

For election as a Fellow an individual needs to have made a prominent contribution to the advancement of the biological sciences, and gained no less than five years’ experience in a position of senior responsibility.