Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
11:11 AM 30th March 2018

Leeds Scientists To Stretch Heart Cells To Help People With Heart Failure

Dr Sarah Calaghan and her team at the University of Leeds have been awarded £128,000 by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to answer urgent questions about the biological processes that leave the heart muscle damaged and unable to pump effectively.

In a healthy person, heart muscle cells are constantly being stretched by blood flowing into the chambers of the heart. The ability to expand and contract allows the heart to pump more strongly when blood flow to the heart increases, for example during exercise.

However, abnormally high levels of stretch such as after a heart attack can trigger the development of heart failure. This limits the heart’s ability to effectively pump blood around the body. It can lead to breathlessness, low energy, and leave people unable to do everyday tasks like walk to the shops.

The Leeds team believe that small pits in the surface of heart cells, known as caveolae, could play a key role in the function of the healthy heart and in the development of heart failure. When cells are stretched, the caveolae lose their shape which could release molecules that can trigger various signals altering the normal function of the heart.

The researchers will use state of the art protein chemistry and imaging techniques to study how these caveolae respond to stretching in both healthy hearts, and in those that are damaged.

By learning how the heart senses stretch and how this leads to changes in the structure and function of the heart will provide greater understanding of the development of heart failure, a devastating condition which affects more than 500,000 in the UK.

Dr Sarah Calaghan said: “Hearts are amazing organs. They are continually adapting to the body’s needs to make sure enough blood flows around our bodies.

“The way the heart stretches is one of the fundamental processes for this, but we need to better understand what happens when this goes wrong. If we can pinpoint how the caveolae works, this could point the way towards a new way of treating heart failure.”

Dr Subreena Simrick, Senior Funding Advisor at the British Heart Foundation, added:

“The BHF is proud to have funded this study which could represent a huge shift in our understanding of how the heart adapts and stretches to different conditions.

“Leeds is a city at the forefront of cardiac imaging and makes this team uniquely placed to take the results of this study to the next level.

“With more than half a million people living in the UK with heart failure, there’s an urgent need to understand why hearts lose their ability to pump blood effectively. Vital projects like this are only possible thanks to the generosity of the public.”