Dr John Mackrill
John Mackrill started his higher education with a degree in Biology from Imperial College, London. He went on to study calcium channel biochemistry at the National Institute for Medical Research, London, under the supervision of Prof. F. Anthony Lai. He was awarded a PhD for this work in 1994 and then began his postdoctoral career with Prof. John Challiss and Prof. Stefan Nahorski, investigating inositol trisphosphate receptor calcium release channels at the Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology, University of Leicester. In 1997, John arrived at the Department of Biochemistry, UCC, to work with Prof. Tommie McCarthy on ryanodine receptor calcium release channels as a European Union Training and Mobility Research Fellow. He was subsequently awarded a Health Research Board Career Development Fellowship and then worked as a fixed-term lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry. In 2005, John was appointed as a lecturer in the Department of Physiology, where he currently operates as a teacher, principal investigator, mentor and researcher. Since securing the position of lecturer, John has supervised three MSc students, three PhD students and one MD student to successful completion.
John contributes to science in both direct (teaching and research) and indirect ways. He is a member of the Biochemical Society, European Calcium Society, European Network for Oxysterols Research and is the Departmental Representative of the Physiological Society. He has acted as a referee of research articles submitted to sixteen different journals and is an editorial advisor for the Biochemical Journal and is an associate editor of Calcium Signaling. John regularly reviews grant applications for a number of national and international funding agencies, including Muscular Dystrophy Ireland and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, UK. He is the Chair of the Departmental Graduate Studies Committee and organises the Departmental research seminar series. John is involved in a number of outreach activities aimed at promoting science, such as School Open Days and school visits; and has recently been listed in ‘Galzac’s Guide to Expert Sources’, a resource which facilitates engagement between the media and experts in various areas of public interest.
John’s lab is based in the Bioscience Institute (BSI). Since starting his PhD, his research has centred on characterisation of calcium signalling mechanisms in cells. This interest has sparked a broad range of research projects over the past two decades, since calcium ions are a pivotal second messenger in all cellular organisms, playing roles in the regulation of almost every biological process. This broad scope has also depended on interactions with many local, national and international collaborators. Key approaches used by this group are protein biochemical techniques to analyse components of calcium signalling pathways and fluorescent videomicroscopy methods to monitor changes in Ca2+ levels in living cells. Past and current projects in this lab include:
1) investigation of the effects of cholesterol oxidation products, or oxysterols, on calcium signalling mechanisms. This has involved continued collaboration with Prof. Gérard Lizard at the University of Bourgogne, France and Prof. Nora O’Brien, School of Food and Nutritional Sciences, UCC;
2) examination of the roles of selenoproteins, containing the 21st amino acid selenocysteine, in physiological and pathological processes. This work has resulted in linkages with Prof. David Grunwald and Dr. Mike Howard at the University of Utah and with Prof. John Atkins, UCC;
3) investigation of proteins involved in skeletal muscle and heart excitation-contraction coupling, particularly in the terms of alterations in abundance in ageing and in models of sleep apnoea. This has involved interactions with Dr. Brian McDonagh, University of Liverpool and Prof. Ken O’Halloran, Department of Physiology, UCC;
4) characterisation of calcium signalling in vascular smooth muscle and endothelial cells derived from circulating stem cells. These cells are a major focus of translational research by the Centre for Research in Vascular Biology, BSI, UCC, headed by Prof. Noel Caplice; and
5) analyses of the evolution of calcium release channels: this has led to the identification of a novel family of ryanodine receptor-like channel proteins that are only present in fungus-like organisms called oomycetes. We have recently secured funding to characterise some of the biochemical and functional properties of these channels.