The Swinburne Lab studies how tissues, cells, and subcellular dynamics coordinate to generate organs and initiate physiologies. The lab’s current goal is to understand the mechanisms of hydraulic control within vertebrate organs. Hydraulic control is necessary for our senses of hearing, balance, and vision, as well as the homeostasis of our brain ventricles, kidneys, and lymphatic vessels. Underlying these processes is the fundamental cell biology of tissues and the relationship of tissue mechanics to external forces. Epithelial tissues function as physical and chemical barriers to compartmentalize and control the internal environments of organs. However, several vertebrate physiologies require epithelium to be conditional barriers, as can be seen in the kidney’s slit diaphragm that acts as a filter. Once they uncover a previously unobserved epithelial structure, the next challenge is to understand the molecular regulators and cellular behaviors that produce its form, control its function, and promote its maintenance. Progress in understanding conditional epithelial barriers has been slowed because the tissues of interest have not always been optically accessible and because the key mechanisms span molecular regulation, cellular dynamics, and tissue and organ level mechanics.
More detailed understanding of how physiologies develop and are maintained is attainable in zebrafish because of facile live-imaging, CRISPR-based genetics, gene-editing, and biophysical measurements. The integration of quantitative cell biology, developmental biology, and physiology will accelerate our progress toward a better understanding of how organs work and lead to new therapeutic strategies. Currently, they combine multi-scale imaging, genetics, and physical approaches to uncover the principles underlying the formation and function of tissue-scale pressure relief valves in the ear and the eye.