BSc Biology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Membrane Transport and Signalling in Health & Disease (E)

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL31621
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


Building on Years 1 and 2, this unit explores in depth the pivotal roles of ion channels and transporters in cellular activity, and the consequences of disturbance to normal activity resulting from genetic aberration and disease. Students will learn how understanding of the physiological and pathophysiological roles of these proteins, and their structure and function, can be exploited to treat clinical conditions such as cancer, pain and vascular disease.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Membrane Excitability: Ion Channels & Transporters in Action BIOL21321 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


Ion channels and transporters have essential roles in the control of cellular activity. This unit aims to acquaint students with the roles of ion channels and transporters in clinical conditions, (e.g., cancer, pain) and the means to exploit these proteins as therapeutic targets.

Learning outcomes

Students should: Recognise the pivotal roles of ion channel and transporter proteins in cellular activity. Understand the consequences of disturbance to normal activity resulting from genetic aberration, disease, or drug action. Be able to link knowledge of ion channel/transporter structure and function to pathophysiology and approaches used for therapeutic intervention. Be able to review developing strategies for therapeutic intervention.


Structural and functional diversity of ion channels/transporters: Advanced knowledge of diversity in ion channel/transporter structure-function and its physiological and therapeutic relevance. Ion channel trafficking: Principles of ion channel trafficking, targeting and distribution, in relation to disease and therapeutic exploitation. Calcium Signalling and Disease: Physiological roles of ion channels and transporters involved in diseases arising from disrupted calcium signalling, e.g. calcium overload (stroke), genetic mutations (Alzheimer’s disease). Cancer: Roles of calcium and sodium channels and transporters in cancer. How calcium impacts on key cancer hallmarks, e.g. proliferation, migration and how voltage-gated sodium channels promote invasion and metastasis. Potential of the calcium signalling machinery and sodium channels as therapeutic targets. Pain: Roles of ion channels in pain transmission and how pain-related channelopathies arise from genetic mutations. Exploration of drugs currently in use and strategies for developing improved drugs for the treatment of chronic and neuropathic pain. Cardiovascular Function: Physiological roles of ion channels and transporters in cardiac excitation, rhythm, and regulation. Cardiac ion channelopathies due to genetic defects (cardiac arrhythmias) and drugs used to treat cardiovascular disease.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Online research problem requiring critical analysis, and data interpretation, supported by a Workshop.
Oral communication
Students are encouraged to answer questions during lectures/workshops.
Lecture content is research-led with an emphasis on current research, and students are encouraged to read around the subject. In addition to their own literature-based research, students are directed to additional scientific papers to enhance and consolidate their learning.
Written communication
Revision/Exam Practice Workshops support students in developing critical writing skills.
Students will develop self-discipline and time management skills.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 5%
Written exam 80%
Written assignment (inc essay) 15%
Online quizzes 5% Online research paper-based SAQs 15% Online written exam 80% Examination (80%); Other - online assessments (20%)

Feedback methods

Online quizzes on core lecture material – written feedback for each Q via Blackboard Online research paper-based SAQs – individual and general written feedback via Blackboard Workshops, e.g. exam practice – verbal feedback in sessions Submitted essay plans (optional) – written feedback via email Discussion Board - written responses to student Qs via Unit Blackboard site

Recommended reading

References specific to each lecture topic will be recommended by individual lecturers.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2.7
eAssessment 6
Lectures 18
Independent study hours
Independent study 73.3

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Elizabeth Fitzgerald Unit coordinator

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