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Human physiology: Effects of hypoxia and exercise on respiratory, cardiovascular and metabolic function

Genetic selection in the hypoxia-inducible factor pathway of Tibetans
Genetic selection in the hypoxia-inducible factor pathway of Tibetans

Our research centres on human systems physiology - particularly respiratory, cardiovascular and metabolic physiology. We take new discoveries made at the molecular and cellular level and exploit them to understand whole-body function better, including responses to stresses such as exercise and hypoxia.

Our current focus is on understanding human responses to alterations in iron and oxygen. Iron and oxygen are intimately linked at the molecular and cellular level, as both regulate the hypoxia-inducible factor transcription pathway. We conduct studies where we manipulate iron stores and/or oxygen levels in humans to monitor the effects on their physiology. We also conduct studies on humans with rare genetic mutations of the iron and oxygen regulatory mechanisms to understand their physiological consequences. Apart from the intrinsic biological interest of these findings, there is increasing evidence that they have real importance in clinical medicine. Not only are many patients hypoxic, but also many patients with chronic disease are functionally iron deficient.

Although our principal focus is on human physiology, animal models can provide an important bridge between this and molecular and cellular studies. We have developed a range of novel genetically-modified mouse models to explore, in a tissue specific manner, the role of certain proteins in regulating iron homeostasis.

Technological innovation is vital to achieving breakthroughs in human systems physiology. We have a long track record in this, and currently we are developing an airway molecular flux sensor which uses laser absorption spectroscopy to analyse the gases in the airway. Not only will this allow us to study gas exchange in ways that have not been possible before, it will have clinical applications in medicine, in intensive care, and in anaesthesia.

We are an outward looking group, with collaborative projects across the University of Oxford – in particular with chemistry and engineering in the physical sciences, and with the clinical departments of medicine, anaesthesia and intensive care.

Much of the work within our group is either undertaken by graduate students working towards a doctorate or by early career postdoctoral scientists developing their careers. In many cases, the students are jointly supervised with other colleagues and this adds breadth to their research training. The laboratory has an international feel with students coming from many different countries. Recent students have been funded through Rhodes Scholarships, Marshall Scholarships, Felix Scholarships, Clarendon Bursaries, Wellcome Trust Studentships, as well as through funding arising from their native countries.

Our team

  • Peter Robbins
    Peter Robbins

    Professor of Physiology

  • Yu Chung

    Postgraduate Student

  • Kate Curtis

    Postdoctoral Research Scientist

  • Matthew Frise

    Postgraduate Student

  • David O'Neill

    Postdoctoral Research Scientist

  • David O'Connor
    David O'Connor

    Operations Manager, Teaching & Technical Support

  • Peter Santer
    Peter Santer

    Postgraduate Student

  • Nicholas Smith

    Postgraduate Student

Related research themes