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.

Our Methods

We use a combination of advanced microscopy techniques, gene expression analysis and functional assays to investigate the activity of macrophages. Some examples of the methods we employ can be found on our YouTube channel.

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Lab News

New Grant from the Heart and Stroke Foundation

We are thrilled to announce that our grant on the function of GATA2 and MERTK in early atheroscerlosis has been funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. This 3-year project will continue our earlier work into how the macrophage receptor MERTK, and the transcription factor GATA2, work to enable the onset of atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of heart disease, and is responsible for nearly a third of deaths world-wide. In atherosclerosis, a combination of cholesterol, fats and dead cells accumulate into masses (called plaques) beneath major blood vessels. These plaques are delicate and can easily rupture, forming a blood clot. If the resulting clot blocks circulation in the heart or brain, the patient will suffer a heart attack or stroke.

By understanding the earliest events that occur in disease – events which appear to involve MERTK and GATA2 – we may be able to prevent or reverse the formation of plaques, thereby protecting people from the potentially serious outcomes of a ruptured plaque.

DNA/RNA Portal

The Heit lab is now the official UWO portal for IDT orders. What this means is that UWO researchers can now order all IDT products via a new portal ( and receive free shipping and preferred pricing on these products. All products will be delivered to the Heit lab, and you will receive an email once your items arrive. All items can then be picked up from the dropbox outside of Health Sciences Addition room H316. This is a great way to save on all of your DNA and RNA needs.

If you are an existing IDT customer you will need to setup a new account, using the “Set Up New Account” link at the UWO Portal.

Spaceships: Homemade (left) versus commercial (right)

The Heit lab is excited to share our 3D printed “spaceships” with the microscopy community. These are live cell imaging chambers (Leiden chambers) which hold an 18 mm circular coverslip plus enough media to keep cells alive over 24 hours of imaging. These can be easily modified with free CAD software to add features such as profusion ports and electrodes. But importantly, they are very cheap – a few dollars (that is the total cost – including magnets, o-rings and 3D printer filament) versus several hundred dollars for their commercial equivalents.

The enclosed .ZIP file contains a readme file with all of the information required to print these chambers (including a complete list of non-3D printed parts), .STL files for two different size chambers (35 mm and 42 mm) and a .STL file for tools to aid in the assembly of the chambers. The only other item you will need is access to a 3D printer (we use the Prusa MK3S).

We Are Looking for New Students and Post-Doctoral Fellows

The Heit lab is looking for two individuals to pursue our recently funded CIHR project. Positions are available for both graduate students (MSc or PhD students) and for post-doctoral fellows. Additional details can be found in the attached ad.

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