The pioneering medical research being done by Scotland’s universities has been helped by funding from Heart Research UK including 2 University of Strathclyde projects exploring links between heart disease and other conditions.
These grant awards come as Heart Research UK is set to launch the Heart of Scotland appeal this April, a dedicated fundraiser for pioneering medical research in Scotland.
Prevention of heart disease in cancer patients is being investigated in research led by Professor Robin Plevin, Head of the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences.
Another study into possible links between hip replacements and heart disease, is being led by Dr Susan Currie, a Senior Lecturer with the Institute.
The projects have received funding of £79,000 and £149,000 respectively.
Cancer is a disease that will affect one in two of the UK population in their lifetime but advances in treatment have led survival rates to double in the last 40 years.
However, the very treatments that are saving lives can increase the risk of coronary heart disease and Professor Plevin’s study will explore this problem.
“Coronary heart disease is usually due to damage and death of the endothelial cells that line blood vessels. This sets off a chain reaction which, over time, can lead to a heart attack.
“We have found that treating endothelial cells with anti-cancer drugs or blasting them with X-rays activates a protein called JNK. Our project will test whether JNK drives the death of endothelial cells.
“This is a very promising area of study, with the potential to really benefit patients and change the outcomes for cancer sufferers. We’re really grateful to Heart Research UK for allowing us to explore the links.”
This issue is further complicated by the fact that there are two types of JNK. The researchers will remove one JNK at a time, or both, then treat the cells with anti-cancer drugs or X-rays to see if the cells still die and, if so, identify which of the JNKs is responsible.
Radiotherapy may also kill or damage cells in the surrounding area and this project will additionally study the role of JNKs in the death of cells beyond those directly targeted.
Dr Currie’s research will study how metals used in some artificial joint bearings, such as cobalt and chromium, may cause damage to heart cells and tissue.
The team will focus on a possible link between cobalt exposure and changes in the levels and activity of a particular heart protein called ‘CaMKII’ which has a central role in regulating heart function.
Dr Currie said:
“Over time, levels of metals such as cobalt present in artificial joint bearings rise in the bloodstream of hip replacement patients and accumulate in various organs of the body, including the heart. Left untreated, this is suspected to lead to heart damage and in some cases, heart failure.
“We already know that the levels and activity of CaMKII change at an early stage of heart disease so our research will investigate whether similar changes in CaMKII occur in response to increased cobalt levels. We will also look at whether we can reduce or even reverse the damaging effects of cobalt on the heart.
“It’s a vital area of study with the potential to really benefit patients who’ve received hip transplants, it could go a long way to changing the outcomes.
“We’re very grateful to Heart Research UK for allowing us to undertake this research.”
Dr Currie’s team also includes Dr Rothwelle Tate, of Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, Professor Helen Grant, of the University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, and Dominic Meek, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.
Barbara Harpham, Chief Executive of Heart Research UK said:
“We urgently need new treatments to counteract the higher risk of coronary heart disease in people who have had treatment for cancer. If successful, this project will help us to understand the mechanisms involved to pave the way for the development of new drugs to stop heart disease developing in cancer patients.”
“The heart is a hard-working organ which these days we expect to work efficiently for ninety years or more but sadly heart disease affects too many people.
“Close to 100,000 hip replacements were performed in the UK in 2017, almost 8,000 of them in Scotland. As this number is predicted to increase year by year, any associated heart risks are a serious concern both to doctors and patients.
“Medical science is progressing at remarkable speed. Hip replacement surgery has greatly improved and is now one of the most performed elective surgical procedures in the world. However, there is still much to learn about how the artificial hip joint can affect the heart.
“Investment in research is the only way we can tackle this challenge. The dedication we see from UK researchers is both encouraging and impressive and we at Heart Research UK are proud to support it and be part of it.”
In total, seven grants have been awarded by Heart Research UK in the latest grant round – an investment of almost £1m for projects that aim to bridge the gap between laboratory-based scientific research and patient care, to benefit patients as soon as possible. To date, Heart Research UK have invested more than £25 million in medical research via its grants programme.