Dr Matthew Lancaster

Dr Matthew Lancaster

Profile

My main academic interest has always revolved around understanding the response of the human body to stresses. During my undergraduate degree in physiology I was particularly interested in cardiovascular responses as well as environmental physiology. Thanks to funding from the Wellcome Trust and Physiological Society I was able to gain research experience studying cardiac biology all the way down to the cellular and sub-cellular level developing a keen interest in calcium signalling. This was an interest I continued to follow into my PhD in Liverpool where I studied heterogeneity of the heart and how this can lead to regional differences in cardiac function. Key for normal function but also potentially a trigger for arrhythmias when this is disrupted. This study of heterogeneity continued into my early postdoctoral work where I then looked at the function of the sinoatrial node, the ion channels that regulate its spontaneous function and eventually how this can be disrupted, particularly in old age.

This interest in ageing has continued into my independent research career where I have been profiling changes in the heart occurring with advancing age - even in the absence of pathology. Regular exercise is known to ameliorate some of the issues associated with ageing and so this has become a natural partner to such investigations identifying common issues but also differences between the stresses of advancing age and stress of exercise. I'm a member of the multidisciplinary cardiovascular research centre, which is a network of individuals interested in bringing a very broad range of skills to bear on cardiovascular health and this helps support my work.

Outside of the lab I also have a strong interest in student education. I have used online resources to support my teaching for many years and I'm always keen to ascertain what works and what doesn't in terms of supporting learning. Current projects involve developing classes where practical activities are supported by online materials that guide and reinforce what is being done in the lab or out in the field. I'm a big proponent of practical skills and having the chance to practice and experiment with a range of skills - even if this is done in a virtual learning environment. Adaptive online learning support offers a great way to provide personalised educational opportunities and allow better development of every individual and hopefully I can help advance this.

Responsibilities

  • Director of Student Education
  • Digital Education Lead

Research interests

My group’s research is directed towards understanding how the heart adapts to changing stresses to ensure continued healthy function. Of particular interest are the stresses of exercise and ageing.

Failure of the heart to adapt leads to cardiac insufficiency whereas undesirable adaptations cause increased susceptibility to arrhythmias and sudden death. By studying cardiac function at the global, cellular and sub-cellular levels we hope to develop an understanding of how intrinsic cardiac responses are controlled and may be manipulated.

One key aspect of our research is directed at the initiation of heart beat. What makes the heart beat spontaneously? How does the pacemaker of the heart adapt? Why in old age does the normal heart's pacemaker begin to fail? By measuring cardiac electrical activity in people, animal models and cellular models we identify the key ionic currents and controlling processes that allow the heart to spontaneously beat and that modify this beating rate.  So far we have identified key changes in connections between cells and ionic currents that deteriorate with old age predisposing to problems.  Interestingly some of these changes may also occur with exercise leading to a lower heart rate but also potentially a predisposition to problems...

A further key issue we investigate is the multiple effects of ageing on cardiac performance. The aged heart is more susceptible to arrhythmias, shows reduced capacity for adaptation to common stresses such as exercise, and shows reduced tolerance to damaging insults such as a myocardial infarction. Research performed in conjunction with Dr Sandra Jones at the University of Hull as well as here in Leeds has created age-dependent profiles of cardiac function and adaptation allowing us to model cardiac ageing and identify key changes which eventually form the background for cardiac problems in the elderly.

I also have interests in the acute and long-term remodelling of the heart by exercise training. Athlete's heart is a designation used to refer to the heart in trained individuals. With exercise training hypertrophy (growth) of the heart occurs and this is key to improving peak cardiac performance but along with this can come changes in cardiac electrical function and in rare cases this can lead to arrhythmias and the risk of sudden death. I'm interested in reliable markers of pathological changes vs. healthy adaptations along with the specific time-courses and triggers for such adaptation. Understanding these will hopefully allow us to improve identification of individuals at risk of sudden death.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://biologicalsciences.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>

Qualifications

  • BSc Physiology, Leeds;
  • PhD, Liverpool
  • Senior Fellow of Advance HE

Professional memberships

  • Advance HE
  • Physiological Society
  • American Heart Association
  • British Society for Cardiovascular Research
  • British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences

Student education

Undergraduate project topics:

  • ECG changes in response to intense exercise
  • Cardiac risk factors in apparently healthy populations

Postgraduate studentship areas:

  • Cardiac adaptation to exercise
  • Ageing of the heart as a prelude to disorder

See also:

Academic roles

  • School Director of Taught Student Education - SPSC

Committees

  • Member of Faculty Taught Student Education Committee (Co-opted member)
  • Member of Undergraduate School Taught Student Education Committee (Exams Officer: Sport and Exercise Science, Sports Science and Physiology)
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://biologicalsciences.leeds.ac.uk/research-opportunities">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>