Hey I’m Claire, a second year PhD student here at the University of Manchester looking at how the cardiovascular system, the heart and blood vessels, works. With cardiovascular diseases being the leading cause of death worldwide, contributing to over 30%, research into the heart and blood vessels is very important.
The heart is an amazing organ. Working as a pump, the heart beats one hundred times a day to move twenty three thousand litres of blood around the body. This job is hugely important as the movement of blood around the body not only delivers oxygen and nutrients but also removes waste.
So, for the heart to do a pretty good job it must continuously pump in a regular pattern. When the heart begins to beat strangely - too fast, too slow or in an odd rhythm- things begin to go wrong. These abnormal heart rhythms are called arrhythmias and are the focus of my work.
How common are arrhythmias? Very! The chances of you knowing someone who has an odd heartbeat is highly likely. In the UK alone, one million people experience a heart rhythm problem every year, making it one of the top 10 reasons people go to see a doctor. Arrhythmias also play a part of half of heart failure deaths, so understanding how they develop is crucial to tackle the major heart disease problem.
What causes abnormal heart rhythms? Arrhythmias are really complex and can be affected by many things including diseases, your lifestyle choices but also your genetic makeup. Your genes are the codes which decide your unique characteristics, acting as a sort of blueprint or set of instructions. Now your genes not only decide how you look, but they also influence your chances of developing certain diseases, including arrhythmias.
So my research aims to identify certain genes or codes which make your heartbeat irregular, hoping to uncover why some people are more likely to get odd heart rhythms.
How do I look into a role of a gene in the heart’s natural rhythm? I mess around with the genetic blueprint of heart cells in both human and animal cells.
Animal models can be controversial to use, but are hugely important in science research. They allow me to look at the bodily effect of gene by removing a gene from the heart of a mouse- something which I defiantly couldn’t do in a human!! Comparing normal mice with those who have a certain gene missing from there heart, I see how that specific genetic instruction affects how the heart pumps blood. Therefore, I can see if having or not having a single gene can make you more or less likely to get an abnormal heart rhythm!
Can this help fight cardiovascular disease? By knowing how our genetic makeup affects our chances of getting heart diseases, can help us not only identify the people who are most at risk but may also help in developing new drugs and treatment for abnormal heart rhythms and even heart failure!
Why I do it? While I may not have always loved science at school, I have always been fascinated by the world around us, especially how our amazingly intricate bodies work and what happens when things go wrong in diseases. As mentioned, cardiovascular disease is a major health problem. Being able to be part of the fight against it is truly rewarding and astounding.
Like a lot of scientists, the main thing that attracted me the world of science research is the excitement of the unknown, knowing that no one has ever done what I am doing is an amazing feeling!
I hope you are now fascinated by the world of science research and the cardiovascular system! Here are some ways to further delve into the area I am studying -
My work is kindly funded by the British Heart Foundation, and there website is great for learning more about the different conditions and what research they do.
· Here you can find out lots of basic facts about the heart:
· This section explains more about abnormal heart rhythms:
· And here is a link to information about some of the other research they support: http://www.bhf.org.uk/research/our-heart-research/our-researchers.aspx
I am part of the Institute of Cardiovascular Science at Manchester. Here is the link to their page when you can find out more about the research going on and how you can get involved through further study: http://www.cardiovascular.manchester.ac.uk/