I am currently a British Heart Foundation Senior Basic Science Fellow and Reader in Pulmonary Vascular Diseases in the Vascular Sciences section of the National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI).
For the past 15 years my research has been devoted to understanding the molecular basis of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) and other forms of pulmonary hypertension (PH). My groups' research is patient-orientated; specifically, we are exploring the utility of multiple 'omics’ (genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics) in defining clinical phenotypes and their underlying molecular drivers. Our work has been generously supported by funding from the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Medical Research Council (MRC) and National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), including the BHF Centre for Research Excellence (CRE, https://www.imperial.ac.uk/bhf-research-excellence/) and Biomedical Research Centre (BRC, https://imperialbrc.nihr.ac.uk/), amongst others.
I became a Lecturer and group leader at Imperial College in 2017 and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2021, and now Reader in 2023. I have used this opportunity to drive my ‘omics’ research into pulmonary hypertension, and was awarded a prestigious Senior Fellowship from the BHF in 2022. Metabolomic studies using NMR identified reduced plasma levels of small HDL particles, which transport fibrinolytic proteins (Harbaum et al Thorax 2019). The first Mendelian Randomisation analysis published in PAH confirmed iron deficiency is primarily an epiphenomenon, with no evidence for causality of disease, urging caution in the interpretation of clinical studies (Ulrich et al ERJ 2020). Most recently, I published the first RNAseq analysis of whole blood samples from PAH patients from the UK National PAH Cohort study, identifying a signature which differentiated patients from controls, and was associated with clinical outcomes within patient groups (Rhodes et al AJRCCM 2020), and two plasma proteomic studies (Rhodes et al AJRCCM 2022, Harbaum*, Rhodes* et al. AJRCCM 2022) identifying a novel prognostic model and proteins associated genetically with PAH development.
Previously, I worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Rabinovitch Lab at Stanford University, California, USA. I worked on an NIH-funded U01 project which is investigating the utility of induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS)-derived endothelial cells (ECs) and genomic technologies in investigating the pathology of PAH. The genomic technologies being used include whole genome-, DNA methylation- and RNA-sequencing (RNAseq). I worked directly with the genetics laboratory of Prof. Michael Snyder in the analysis of RNAseq of control and patient ECs and the stem cell lab of Prof. Joseph Wu in the differentiation of endothelial cells from iPSCs. I took candidate genes and demonstrated their importance in PAH in terms of endothelial biology and effects in vivo in models of PAH.
I am a basic scientist by training (Natural Sciences: Pharmacology, First Class, Cambridge University) and started my studies into PH during my MRC PhD Studentship at Imperial College London, under the guidance of Prof. Martin Wilkins and Dr. John Wharton. During this time I studied iron homeostasis and biomarkers in pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). I found red cell distribution width (RDW), a measure of the variability in red blood cell size related to iron deficiency, outperformed other biomarkers in predicting survival in PAH patients. I also found elevated hepcidin levels in patients with PAH, which could be associated with the BMPR2 dysfunction typical in this disease, was related to iron deficiency. Iron deficiency in these patients was related to poorer survival. Following these findings the Wilkins Lab, in collaboration with the PH clinical services at Hammersmith Hospital, London, Papworth Hospital, Cambridge and The Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield, was awarded a 5-year BHF Programme Grant to study the importance of iron deficiency in PAH, including the performance of a placebo-controlled clinical trial investigating the utility of intravenous iron therapy in addition to standard therapies in 60 PAH patients.
et al., 2020, Mendelian randomization analysis of red cell distribution width in pulmonary arterial hypertension, European Respiratory Journal, Vol:55, ISSN:0903-1936, Pages:1-9
et al., 2019, Reduced plasma levels of small HDL particles transporting fibrinolytic proteins in pulmonary arterial hypertension, Thorax, Vol:74, ISSN:1468-3296, Pages:380-389
et al., 2019, Genetic determinants of risk in pulmonary arterial hypertension: international case-control studies and meta-analysis, Lancet Respiratory Medicine, Vol:7, ISSN:2213-2600, Pages:227-238
et al., 2018, Identification of rare sequence variation underlying heritable pulmonary arterial hypertension, Nature Communications, Vol:9, ISSN:2041-1723, Pages:1-16
et al., 2017, Plasma proteome analysis in patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension: an observational cohort study, Lancet Respiratory Medicine, Vol:5, ISSN:2213-2600, Pages:717-726
et al., 2017, Plasma metabolomics implicate modified transfer RNAs and altered bioenergetics in the outcome of pulmonary arterial hypertension, Circulation, Vol:135, ISSN:0009-7322, Pages:460-475
et al., 2015, RNA Sequencing Analysis Detection of a Novel Pathway of Endothelial Dysfunction in Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension., American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Vol:192, ISSN:1535-4970, Pages:356-366
et al., 2013, Reduced microRNA-150 is associated with poor survival in pulmonary arterial hypertension., American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Vol:187, Pages:294-302
et al., 2011, Iron Deficiency and Raised Hepcidin in Idiopathic Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension Clinical Prevalence, Outcomes, and Mechanistic Insights, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Vol:58, ISSN:0735-1097, Pages:300-309
et al., 2011, Red cell distribution width outperforms other potential circulating biomarkers in predicting survival in idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension, Heart, Vol:97, ISSN:1355-6037, Pages:1054-1060