Phagocyte Biology Laboratory

Dr. Bryan Heit, Western University

About Us

Welcome! You have reached the homepage for the laboratory of Dr. Bryan Heit. Our lab is part of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Western University, and we are members of the Center for Human Immunology, the lead centre for the CIHR Human Immunology Network.

Our interests surround the function of phagocytes – white blood cells which ingest (phagocytose) pathogens, particles, and dead cells. We focus on the cellular and molecular processes which control the function of these cells during the maintenance of homeostasis, infection and chronic inflammatory disease. Central to most of our studies is the study of efferoctyosis – the phagocytic removal of apoptotic (dying) cells, and how failures in this process lead to inflammation, autoimmunity and infection.

What is a Phagocyte?

Phagocytes are a class of white blood cells which have the capacity to engulf large particles such as bacterial and fungal pathogens, and subsequently destroy the engulfed material. The term phagocyte literally translates to “cell that eats”, which is an apt description of the primary function of these cells in our bodies. While there are many types of phagocytes, the Heit lab focuses primarily on macrophages, which play key roles in both maintaining our bodies and in fighting infections.

Lab News

Graduate Student Positions Available!

The Heit lab is currently looking to fill three graduate student vacancies, starting in either May or September of 2016. The available positions are:

  1. Biophysics of phagocyte receptor diffusion and phagocyte force generation. Students with a background in biophysics, physics, biochemistry or cell biology would be best suited for this position.
  2. Efferocytic receptor biology. This project involves characterizing the gene regulation and signalling pathway responsible for efferocytosis through a key efferocytic receptor, with the aim of understanding how this receptor works under homeostasis and during chronic inflammatory disease.
  3. Characterization of a new phagocytic receptor. We believe that we have identified a new phagocytic receptor; this project seeks to further characterize this receptor and understand its role under homeostatic and chronic inflammatory conditions.

Please note that I will not reply to applicants who have not met the following requirements:

  1. All prospective students must be pre-approved by the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and must meet departmental entrance requirements.
  2. E-mail Dr. Heit with a CV, grades, and contact information for 2 references.
  3. Hold a degree in a relevant area of biology

Students holding independent funding are preferred, but not required

Super-Resolution Imaging Paper Published

PLoSCP2015Today, PLoS Computational Biology has published our study, in which we developed a series of analytical routines for the analysis of molecular interactions in super-resolution microscopy images. These analyses include methods to quantify intermolecular interactions and the formation of larger molecular complexes. This was a large project, involving collaborations across multiple faculties at Western University.

In addition to publishing these analytical methods, this study also includes a software package to perform the analyses described in the paper. This software – Molecular Interactions in Super-Resolution (MIiSR) is available for download from PLoS Computational Biology, with updated versions available here at

Caetano FA, Dirk BS, Tam JHK, Cavanagh PC, Goiko M, Ferguson SSG, Pasternak SH, Dikeakos JD, de Bruyn JR and Heit B. (2015) MIiSR: Molecular Interactions in Super-Resolution Imaging Enables the Analysis of Protein Interactions, Dynamics and Formation of Multi-protein Structures. PLoS Comput Biol 11(12): e1004634. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004634

Staphylococcus aureus pathogensis review published today!



The Heit lab, along with our collaborators in the Heinrichs lab, have just published an extensive review of the mechanisms by which the bacterial pathogen Staphylococcus aureus evades killing in the macrophage phagosome.

Flannagan RS, Heit B and Heinrichs DE. Antimicrobial Mechanisms of Macrophages and the Immune Evasion Strategies of Staphylococcus aureus. Pathogens. 2015, 4(4), 826-868. [Free Full Text]

Listen to our Departmental Chair on CBC’s Quirks & Quarks

Our departmental chair, Dr. Eric Arts, was recently featured on the 40th anniversary episode of CBC radio show/podcast Quirks & Quarks. In this podcast he discusses the history of HIV research and where it is going in the future! Click the image for the audio.

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Upcoming Events

April 1-4 2016
Canadian Society for Immunology Ottawa, Canada

March 29, 2016
London Health Research DayDoubleTree by Hilton London Ontario 300 King Street, London, ON, N6B 1S2

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