Dr. Pika Miklavc
School of Science, Engineering and Environment
Lecturer in Human Physiology
I studied Biology on University of Ljubljana in Slovenia and continued there as a PhD student in the Department of Biology. During my graduate studies I investigated olfactory coding in fish and obtained my PhD in 2005. I then became interested in cellular mechanisms of secretion and moved to Ulm University in Germany as a Marie Curie Fellow of the European Commission in the Research Training Network Pulmonet. There I explored different stages in secretion of lung surfactant, using high-resolution microscopy techniques.
After conclusion of the Pulmonet programme I continued working in the Medical School of the Ulm University as university assistant in the Institute of General Physiology. In 2013 I acquired Margarete von Wrangell Fellowship from the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts of the Land Baden-Württemberg. With help of this fellowship I obtained a Habilitation in Physiology, which is a German post-doctoral qualification for teaching in Higher Education. In 2016 I was appointed as Lecturer in Human Physiology on University of Salford.
Areas of research
Cell Biology, Lung Physiology, Secretion, Exocytosis, Intracellular Trafficking
My teaching focuses on Physiology and Pathophysiology for students in Biomedicine and Biology Programmes. I also contribute to Clinical Immunology, Pharmacology and various taught MSc modules. I deliver practical courses on histology and microscopy and I am a module leader for Level 4 Biological Skills and Study Skills modules. I participate in skills modules across all levels and supervise final year projects.
My previous teaching experience includes teaching Physiology to students of Medicine, Dental Medicine and Molecular Medicine.
My research focuses on secretory processes in lung epithelial cells. Secretion has a central role in lung physiology and pathophysiology. Secretory cells in the airways release mucins, which help to keep the lungs free of pathogens. In contrast, secretory type II cells of lung alveoli secrete lipo-protein surfactant, which reduces surface tension of the alveolar lining fluid and enables inspiration. These secretory cells use regulated exocytosis, a specialized intracellular vesicular transport process, to release substances in the extracellular space. Secretory materials are stored in intracellular vesicles, which fuse with the plasma membrane upon appropriate stimulation.
Alveolar type II cells have large secretory vesicles and a particularly slow, sequential fusion process, which makes them an ideal cell model to study single vesicle fusion events in living cells using high-resolution microscopy methods. My research encompasses different stages of exocytosis, with focus on regulation of vesicle content release after fusion pore opening. Especially in the late stages of exocytosis actin cytoskeleton and calcium ions play a pivotal role for exocytosis of large secretory vesicles and secretion of poorly soluble substances. Secretory vesicles in type II cells acquire actin coats after fusion with the plasma membrane. The compression of these coats provides mechanical force to enable surfactant release. In addition, influx of calcium through P2X4 channels localized on surfactant-containing secretory vesicles contributes to fusion pore dilation and efficient surfactant extrusion.
In addition to investigating basic mechanisms of secretion I am interested in pathological alterations of the secretory mechanisms in lung cells and their implications for lung function. As an example, it is becoming increasingly evident that surfactant deficiency or dysfunction is involved in a range of lung disorders. Deficient surfactant synthesis in prematurely born infants can result in the infant respiratory distress syndrome (IRDS). In adults, surfactant deficit can lead to pulmonary fibrosis, a poorly understood condition which affects a significant percentage of population and irreparably damages lung tissue
- PhD on University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Title of the thesis: Behavioural discrimination of amino acids in zebrafish (Danio rerio). 2005.
- Habilitation on Ulm University, Germany. Title of the thesis: Regulation of hemifusion and post-fusion phase of exocytosis in alveolar type II cells. 2015.
- The Physiological Society