Physiology of Ion Channel Complexes
Ion channels are proteins that control a wide spectrum of physiological processes. They allow the passage of ions such as potassium, sodium, chloride and calcium across cellular membranes. This makes them key elements to cellular communication – they enable cells to relay electrical messages not only into and out of the cells, but also between cells. When ion channels work, we can observe a well-conducted symphony orchestra of physiological processes where each channel hits the right tone. If they do not work as they should, things can go really bad: cardiac arrhythmia, epilepsy, hypertension, disturbed insulin secretion, infertility, just to mention a few examples for possible cacophonies.
My research focuses on the impact of mutations, molecular regulatory mechanisms and accessory subunits on the function of ion channel complexes with special focus on cardiac arrhythmia. Because we can observe many of the studied channels in a variety of tissues, we are also interested in their characterization in e.g. neurons, pancreatic cells, and the vasculature. Observing different functional patterns in different organs gives us valuable hints for understanding the complexity (and beauty) of human physiology.
Many of our studies deal with the molecular regulation and biophysical mechanisms behind ion channel dysfunction observed in cardiac arrhythmia, especially in atrial fibrillation, Brugada syndrome and Long QT syndrome.
Looking closer at atrial fibrillation, the implementation of Next Generation Sequencing techniques helped us to identify unexpected genetic contributors to disease in early-onset lone AF. However, several cases of incomplete penetrance in families, AF comorbidities and phenotype-genotype variability indicate that the mechanisms of AF are more complex than the mere presence of a mutation.
We have exciting data from single nucleus transcriptomics and aim to be at the frontiers of revealing atrial arrhythmopathy subtypes with the overall goal to find new target for treatment of AF.
Further core areas of our research are the molecular mechanisms of cardiac ion channel trafficking, and the posttranslational modification and regulation of cardiac ion channel complexes.
- UCPH Teacher of the Year 2020 (‘Årets Harald’)
See articles in the University Post here about Nicole's teaching (in Danish) , about the students who nominated her (in Danish) and about her teaching (in English) (in English), watch short video portrait)
- Finalist as UCPH Teacher of the Year 2019
- Nominated for the Danish Research Communication Prize (‘Forskerkommunikationsprisen’) 2015
- Fondsbørsvekselerer Henry Hansen og Hustrus Award 2012
- Gerda and Aage Haensch Award 2012
Nicole Schmitt is involved in pregraduate and postgraduate teaching. She gives lectures and seminars, supervises students from a variety of study programs and is involved as teacher or course director in PhD courses.
Lectures and classroom teaching
Lectures (200-450 students, depending on the course) and classroom teaching (group size 24-30 students) within the subjects basic human biology, cell and tissue biology, metabolism, pharmacology and ion transport in the study programs medicine, dentistry, molecular biomedicine, biochemistry, biology and human biology.
This corresponds to 500-600 teaching-related hours per year, held in Danish or English, as well as related exam work.
Supervision and examination of >50 bachelor, Master, research years and ERASMUS students (medicine, molecular biomedicine, human biology, biochemistry, biology, biotechnology, etc.).
Projects range from literature studies to laboratory projects of up to 2 years duration within a wide range of topics within ion channel physiology, cell biology and cardiology.
Mentoring and research integration
Mentoring (member of ‘Jørgen and Monopolet’ at SUND's career day, mentor for molecular biomedicine students).
Recruitment of students for undergraduate research at SUND's Career Day, at project days and through lectures and other teaching activities.
Since 2007, Nicole Schmitt has organized and developed material for >25 PhD courses in the topics ion channels, heart rhythm disorders and research communication and gave presentations at national and international PhDs courses. She has supervised seven postdocs and 12 PhD students. Nicole Schmitt has been chairperson for a several PhD assessment committee at SUND and assessor of Danish and international Ph.D. dissertations.
In addition, Nicole Schmitt has been a mentor for 10 postdocs and assistant professors in formalized mentoring courses.
Nicole Schmitt regularly supervises assistant and associate professor in the Teacher in Higher Education program (“Universitetspædagogikum”) at UCPH.
As Vice Head of Department for Education, Nicole Schmitt is part of the Department's Leadership Team. She represents the Department’s leadership in Educational Councils and is involved in a number of Steering Groups and Committees at Faculty and University level.
Nicole Schmitt’s engagement in steering committees has two major focus areas – education and research data management.
Current activities within development and digitalization of education
- Member of the Danish Cardiovascular Academy - Elite Training Committee’ (2021 onwards)
- Member of the steering committee of the UfM financed project ’Digital Health and Data’ (2020 onwards).
- Invited member of the ‘Employer Panel’ for medical education at Aarhus University, Denmark (2020 onwards)
- Chairperson of the PhD Study Board (2020 onwards)
- Member of the steering committee of the UCPH strategy project “Digitalization of education” (2019 onwards)
In this project, UCPH seeks to warrant the digital education of students, to implement domain-specific digital competencies into the study programs, to foster digital competence development of the university's teachers, and to increase the use of digital learning technologies.
Nicole Schmitt represents the faculty and provides a strong link between University and faculty initiatives.
- Member of faculty working group for the development of a Digital Core Curriculum (DCC) at HEALTH (2019 onwards)
The DCC group is commissioned to develop a compulsory digital core curriculum corresponding to 5-7.5 ECTS in all undergraduate programs. The core curriculum shall include elements that strengthen the individual student's digital education at both basic and advanced levels.
- Member of UCPH steering committee (‘KU-Kopernikus’) for the new national study administration platform ‘Kopernikus’ (2019 onwards).
- Member of the steering committee of the Faculty’s mentor program for postdocs (2019 onwards)
Recent activities within information security and research data management
- Member of the Faculty’s Open Science working group (2019 onwards)
- Member of the Local Information Security Group (LISG) (2019 onwards)
- Member of the steering committee member “Information Security at UCPH” (2019)
- UCPH representative in the National Forum for Research Data Management (2015-2019)
- Faculty representative in UCPH reference group for data management (2015 onwards)
- Chairperson of TASK FORCE Data Management as per the Danish Code of Conduct for Research Integrity at SUND (2015-2016)
”Science is not finished until it’s communicated” (Mark Walport). In line with this, Nicole Schmitt participates in public outreach activities and engages locally in society.
Nicole Schmitt regularly organizes exhibition and dissemination activities about cardiac research at the Copenhagen Culture Night often combining references to music with science (“This is the rhythm of my heart”). Nicole Schmitt was part of performances combining retro-futuristic compositions, visuals, and science about the miracles of the heart with band Detekt and visual artists Rathschau & Lisboa at the FROST festival in Copenhagen 2018 and at the Copenhagen Culture Night 2018.
Nicole Schmitt has been speaker in the series ”Talks på toppen” (Talks at the top) at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.
At the Faculty’s contribution - IND I KROPPEN – at the “Science in the City” Festival in connection with the EuroScience Open Forum 2014 conference, Nicole Schmitt held several roles. She was member of scientific committee for science slam and exhibition activities, host for two science slams about the heart and cardiac function (“Mit hjerte slår på en helt ny måde”, “Beatet i dit hjerte”), and a science slam speaker.
As member of the Local Committee Amager Øst under the Municipality of Copenhagen (2018 onwards) Nicole Schmitt is engaged in the working group ‘Social challenges, Health and Integration’, where she amongst others co-organizes an annual Health Marked gathering local health stakeholders and citizens.
Selected ongoing collaborations with research groups
- Dianna Milewicz (University of Texas, Houston, Department of Internal Medicine)
Functional characterization of ion channel mutations identified in thoracic aneurysm
- Associate professor Russ Teichert (University of Utah, Department of Biology)
Effect of novel conotoxins on neuronal ion channels
- Melvin Scheinman (University of California San Francisco, USA)
Functional characterization of congenital ion channel mutations associated with cardiac arrhythmia
- Guiscard Seebohm (U Muenster, Germany)
Molecular mechanisms of potassium channel regulation in health and disease
Previous or ongoing collaborations with industry
- Acesion Pharma
- Lundbeck A/S
- Saniona A/S