£250k for local team's pioneering research into heart failure

Scientists at Queen’s University have been awarded a prestigious grant by British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland (BHF NI) to conduct cutting edge research that will offer hope to people with heart failure.

BHF NI has awarded a grant of almost £250,000 to Dr Chris Watson and his team at Queen’s University to investigate if a protein they have identified could be used to diagnose and treat heart failure patients.

Over 15,000 people in Northern Ireland are living with heart failure, which occurs when the heart is unable to pump sufficiently to maintain blood flow to meet the body's needs.

While there are treatments available to control the symptoms of heart failure there is no cure for the condition.

Dr Watson’s earlier research has identified a protein called tetranectin, which is associated with a stiffening of the heart muscle. Blood levels of tetranectin were found to be altered in heart failure patients.

Stiff human heart: Accumulation of collagen or cardiac fibrosis (blue) around heart muscle cells (red) results in heart stiffness, heart dysfunction, and can lead to heart failure development. Credit: BHF NI

The funding from the BHF will allow the scientists to determine the protein’s role in the development of heart disease; as a new blood test to diagnose heart failure and also to potentially use it to treat the disease.

Dr Chris Watson said: “Heart failure affects thousands of people in Northern Ireland and is one of the leading causes of death and reduced quality of life worldwide. Having heart failure means that for some reason the heart is not pumping blood around the body as well as it should.

“The most common reason is that your heart muscle has been damaged, for example after a heart attack or long term high blood pressure.

“Researching this protein and its role in the development of heart failure in patients could lead to the design of new drugs to treat the disease, and the development of new blood tests to better diagnose heart failure. This could ultimately lead to improved survival rates for patients and a better quality of life.”

Head of BHF NI Jayne Murray said: “We are delighted to award this grant to Dr Watson and his team at Queen’s University. BHF NI receives no funding for research from government or anywhere else. We can only fund research like this with donations from the public.

“Living with severe heart failure is a constant fight for life. Every year, thousands more families have to watch the people they love struggle with this devastating condition. This cutting edge research has huge potential to provide us with a new therapy and change the lives of thousands of people.”

BHF NI is currently investing almost £2.7m in research at Queen’s University into a range of research projects including repairing the heart after a heart attack and studying gum disease and the risk coronary heart disease.