Sarah England, PhD, Alan A and Edith L Wolff professor of medicine, focuses her research on the question:

“Can we advance our understanding of the function of ion channels in smooth muscle such that we can target these structures pharmacologically in the treatment of smooth muscle diseases?”

Photo by: Matt Miller

Her laboratory has been investigating the roles of potassium channels in regulating both vascular and uterine smooth muscle excitability, with an emphasis primarily on the latter. The molecular mechanisms that underlie uterine smooth muscle excitation during pregnancy remain unknown today, and this continues to hamper progress toward effective treatment of uterine dysfunction such as preterm labor.

The limited efficacy associated with agents currently in use to arrest premature uterine contractions (tocolytics) have intensified the search for more promising therapeutic targets, and potassium channels are particularly promising because their activity results in the dampening of uterine smooth muscle excitability.

This research is laying the groundwork for exploring whether channels can serve as more effective targets for tocolysis. In studying myometrial channels, the England lab hopes to unravel the mechanisms that are key to the transition from quiescence to contraction in at-term pregnancy, and to forge better links between basic biological channel function and defects in uterine contractility.