Ion channels are membrane proteins that are highly conserved from bacteria to humans given that they play a vital role in all forms of life. For more than half a century, the activity of ion channels has been recognized as an important pillar of cell homeostasis and in the maintenance of health. Because of their contribution the pathophysiology of several human maladies, these proteins have been the target of diverse drugs, from antiepileptics to analgesics. Furthermore, ion channel dysfunction is by itself the cause of human disease, a pathological condition referred to as channelopathy. Indeed, more than 40 different channelopathies caused by genetic defects in ion channels have been reported (see table).
Despite of the intense research effort in this exciting field, there are still many issues that remain poorly understood, such as:
i) the composition, structure and role of signalling channel complexes in health and disease;
ii) the atomic structure of the pore forming subunits and the channel complexes;
iii) the molecular and cellular basis of channelopathies, as well as the implication of ion channels in the ethiology of other human diseases;
iv) Development of more selective channel modulators that could be developed as pharmacological tools or drug leads.
Addressing these key and complex questions require the establishment of an integrative ion channel programme that brings together all the complementary skills needed, coordinating them to successfully fill these gaps in our knowledge.
This is precisely the main objective of SICI, namely to become a reference research and training programme that embraces all aspects of ion channels from gene, through to protein, cells, systems and organisms to behaviour, and from basic research to the clinic. Thus, SICI pursues innovation through integration.