For World Heart Day, we spotlight seven Imperial scientists who have made an impact in all cardiac and vascular science.
World Heart Day is an annual global health campaign that increases public awareness of cardiovascular diseases, including their prevention and their global impact. Here, we look at seven ways Imperial scientists have made an impact in all aspects of cardiac and vascular science.
A new study shows reproductive factors in women contribute to the risk of cardiovascular disease
Earlier this year, Imperial College London led a study revealing that among females, an earlier first birth, a higher number of live births, and an earlier onset of menstruation may heighten the risk of cardiovascular issues. The researchers are from Impeiral’s National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI), University of Cambridge, and Yale School of Public Health. They looked at data from over 100,000 women, analyzing genetic information tied to factors like age at first birth, number of live births, age at first period (menarche), and age at menopause.
Dr Fu Siong Ng, senior author of the study, noted, “Many of the previous studies on cardiovascular disease have focused on men, but our research shows that there are sex-specific factors that influence the risk for women.”
The study stands as the most comprehensive analysis to date of reproductive factors unique to women and their associations with a range of cardiovascular diseases, including atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rate), coronary heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.
We are growing heart cells in the lab
Researchers from Imperial and the Crick have recently grown specialized left ventricular heart muscle cells from stem cells. The left ventricle is a significant area for the heart since it pumps blood at a higher pressure to most of the body while the right ventricle fills only the lungs. It is thicker and more muscular than the right ventricle and is also the area most commonly implicated in heart disease and heart attack.
The leader of the research team, Dr Andreia Bernardo, recently established her lab at the NHLI: “In order to encourage cells to specialize, you have to understand the natural developmental process. We set out to understand the different chambers of the heart – how are they formed, and what are the genes and pathways involved in their development".
Her team plans to leverage these cells for exploring left ventricular development, maturation, and disease, in addition to assessing their potential for heart failure treatment.
Researchers have found a link between low emissions and congestion
Imperial researchers have recently found positive health impacts of strategies aiming at curbing congestion and air pollution caused by vehicles in major cities. They looked at the health impacts of Low Emission Zones (LEZs) and Congestion Charging Zones (CCZs) in several cities in the UK, Europe and Asia and found that across multiple cities. There was a reduction in measures of cardiovascular disease (such as hospital admissions) related to Low Emission Zones and an overall reduction in road traffic injuries associated with Congestion Charging Zones.
The researchers emphasize that their analysis underscored the potential advantages of implementing LEZs and CCZs for public health. Notably, they stress that the review does not include an analysis of the impact of the London Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) or projections of its expansion.
We are drawing the most detailed map of the heart including the area where the heartbeat originates
Researchers have produced the most detailed human Heart Cell Atlas to date including the area where the heartbeat originates. The multi-centre team is led by the Welcome Sanger Institute and the NHLI at Imperial, and the study is part of the international Human Cell Atlas (HCA) initiative. The HCA initiative aims to map every cell type in the human body, revolutionizing our grasp of health and disease.
Charting eight regions of the human heart, the study meticulously outlines 75 different cell states including the cells of the cardiac conduction system (the group of cells responsible for the heartbeat), which we have not understood at such a detailed level in humans before. Since cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally, the assembly of a Human Heart Cell Atlas holds immense significance. The researchers anticipate that this heightened understanding will pave the way for more precise, targeted anti-arrhythmic therapies in the future.
Survivors of heart attacks in addition to cardiac arrests are more likely to be at risk of early death
In 2022 a research team from Imperial found that patients surviving both heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrests face a higher six-year mortality risk after leaving the hospital. By analyzing data from 2010 to 2017 on 13,444 heart attack patients, the study reveals that those experiencing a cardiac arrest during their heart attack were twice as likely as those with heart attack alone to develop abnormal heart rhythms referred to as ventricular arrhythmia (VA). Additionally, those with a cardiac arrest were also 36 percent more likely to die on average within three years following discharge from the hospital, compared to those who solely had heart attacks.
Dr Arunashis Sau, first author of the study and Clinical Research Fellow at the NHLI, said, “This is the first study to have found a link between patients who have heart attacks together with sudden cardiac arrests and early death after surviving the initial event. Our findings have significant implications for this subgroup of patients and how we treat them.”
Our researchers found a potential way to improve survival rates for heart surgery
In 2022 researchers from Imperial introduced a method to enhance surgery timing for some heart attack patients by evaluating troponin protein levels. Troponin is a protein released into the bloodstream after a heart attack and indicates heart damage - the higher the troponin levels, the more damaged the heart is.
The new study shows that patients with lower levels of troponin would benefit from earlier surgery, while patients with extremely high troponin levels would better have surgery postponed- if they have surgery within ten days of the heart attack, they will suffer a higher risk of dying.
“Our study could help clinicians make more informed decisions on the best treatment plans for heart attack patients requiring surgery, based on their levels of troponin, ” said Dr Amit Kaura, lead author of the research and NIHR Clinical Research Fellow with the NHLI at Imperial, “It could also lead to a more standardized approach in the NHS on how we treat this patient group, leading to resources being used effectively, shorter stays and improved outcomes for patients.”
New research helps to explain rare heart inflammation in young people
In later 2022, a research team from the NHLI partially answered why healthy young people sometimes develop myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart which could be triggered from a range of factors and can lead to heart failure and sudden cardiac death.
Professor Sanjay Prasad, the senior study author explained," For a subset of people, there’s a gene that predisposes them to this, or makes them susceptible.” The researchers delved into DNA sequencing data from 336 individuals with acute myocarditis and 1,053 healthy counterparts in the UK and the Netherlands. If corroborated by additional studies, these findings could influence care approaches for those affected by myocarditis and their families.
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