MSci Medical Physiology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

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

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL31622
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


Building directly 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 diturbance to normal activity resulting from genetic aberration, disease, or drug action. Students will learn how knowledge of the physiological and pathophysiological roles of these proteins and their structure and function can be exploited to treat clinical conditions such as cardiac arrhythmias, cancer, and pain.


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 trsnporters in clinical conditions (e.g. cardiac arrhythmias, cancer, pain) and the means to exploit these proteins as therapeutic targets.

Learning outcomes

Students should:

  • Recognise and pivotal roles of ion channels and transporters in cellular activity.
  • Understand the consquences 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 stratergies 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: Advanced principles of ion channel trafficking targeting and distribution, in relation to disease and therapeutic exploitation.
  • Membrane Transporters and Aquaporins: Review of structures, functions, and regulation of solute transporters and aquaporins in physiological systems. Co-operative interactions of channels and transporters in epithelial ion transport, including disease examples.
  • Calcium Signalling and Disease: Physiological roels of ion channels and transporters involved in diseases arising from disrupted calcium signalling, e.g. calcium overload (stroke), genetic mutations (Alzeimer'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 channels promote invasion and metastasis. Potential of 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 stratergies 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 problems requiring critical analysis, problem solving and data interpretation.
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 their knowledge.
Written communication
Workshops will develop writing skills - critical analysis and use of relevant cited evidence.
Students will develop self-discipline and time management skills.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 5%
Written exam 80%
Written assignment (inc essay) 15%

Online quizes 5%

Online research paper-based SAQs 15%

Online written exam 80%

Examination (80%); other - online assessments (20%)

Feedback methods

  • Online quizes on core lecture material - written feedback for each Q via Blackboard
  • Online research paper-based SAQs - 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 individual lectures will also be recommended by the lecturers.

Recommended Reading

  1. Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, Morgan D, Raff M, Roberts K & Walter P, Molecular Biology of the Cell (6th edition), Garland Science, 2014, Recommended
  2. Ashcroft, FM, Ion Channels and Disease, Academic Press, 2003, Reference
  3. Boron, WF & Boulpaep, EL, Medical Physiology: A Cellular and Molecular Approach (2nd edition), Saunders, 2008, Recommended
  4. Rang HP, Dale MM, Ritter JM, Flower R & Henderson, G, Rang & Dale's Pharmacology (7th edition), Churchill Livingstone, 2012, Background

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 3
eAssessment 7
Lectures 18
Independent study hours
Independent study 72

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Elizabeth Fitzgerald Unit coordinator

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