Colin Nichols investigates the biology of ion channels, cell membrane structures with a crucial role in transmitting the electrical signals that control our body’s most basic functions — including movement, thought and our heartbeat. Defects in electrical signalling contribute to common diseases in humans, such as diabetes, cardiac arrhythmia and epilepsy.
Colin is improving our understanding of how ion channels work and what happens when they malfunction. He is particularly interested in the so-called inward rectifier channels, working to reveal their mechanism by cloning subunits of the ATP-sensitive potassium — or KATP — channel. He also helped clarify the role of KATP channels in the heart.
By developing models in mice of human diseases involving ion channels, Colin showed that people who express overactive KATP channels in the pancreas develop neonatal diabetes. This form of the disease appears before the age of six months and can now be treated orally in many cases thanks to Colin’s findings.