My area of research is in membrane permeability and small solute transport. Specialized barrier epithelia allow the stringent separation of compartments within tissues so that one side of an epithelium can be markedly different chemically from another. There are two major aspects to controlling solute flow through an epithelium; first, the properties of the lipids that form the cell membranes and secondly, the presence, regulation and function of specific proteins that facilitate the transport of water or small solutes, such as urea. An obvious example of a barrier epithelium is the bladder, where metabolic waste products are separated from the blood. The kidney is also an organ with strict requirements for maintaining separation of compartments via barrier epithelia. Additionally, cell organelles can also maintain an internal environment that differs from the bulk cytoplasm and do so through a combination of membrane properties and transporter function.
Our work currently focuses on two transmembrane protein families that facilitate the flow of water (aquaporins) and urea (urea transporters or UT's) and the mechanisms by which these proteins function. Both families of proteins are essential for proper kidney function.
I grew up in New Zealand and attended Massey University for an undergraduate degree in Biotechnology. From there I spent several years working for a small biotechnology company purifying serum proteins using large scale chromatography. However, an opportunity to research bacterial genetics arose at Auckland University and I ended up obtaining a Master of Science degree in the laboratory of Peter Bergquist with a thesis on cloning and characterizing a serine protease from a thermophilic bacterium.
Deciding that I enjoyed research, but wanting to broaden my horizons, I embarked to Edinburgh, Scotland and the University of Edinburgh where I completed my PhD cloning the myosin V gene from the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster in the laboratory of Mary Bownes. Postdoctoral opportunities abound in the USA so I joined the laboratory of Graham Thomas at The Pennsylvania State University where I studied the beta-heavy-spectrin gene of D melanogaster followed by a second postdoctoral stint at PSU with Pamela Mitchell working on the fly's AP-2 transcription factor.
An opportunity to join Dr Mark Zeidel's Epithelial Physiology group at The University of Pittsburgh arose and in 2006 I followed Dr Zeidel to BIDMC and Harvard Medical School to continue this area of research.