Cardiovascular and respiratory disease

Cardiovascular and respiratory diseases are the leading causes of premature death worldwide; in the UK alone, 1 in 4 of us will die from heart disease and 1 in 5 from lung disease. Half of all deaths from heart disease are sudden and unexpected.

In this theme, we will focus on how we can:

  • Use biomarkers to accurately predict the patients at high risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Biomarkers are molecules found in the body that can act as a sign of disease.
  • Identify new treatments as we increase our understanding of some of the most common and also rarer types of heart and lung diseases.

Here are some of the conditions we are researching:

Blood clots and heart disease We know that platelets (small blood cells that stop bleeding by forming clots) can trigger heart disease when they block an otherwise healthy blood vessel. To counter this risk doctors can prescribe certain medicines (called anti-platelet agents) – but these don’t always work and can have severe side effects. Our research will look into why platelets malfunction and how we can refine medicines to be more effective.

Irregular heart beat Atrial fibrillation – where there is an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate – is a major cause of heart disease and stroke. But treatment remains rudimentary and the risk of blood clots is high. Our research will look at how we can detect this early and even prevent it.

Heart attack The commonest cause of heart attack is atherosclerosis, where arteries become clogged with white fatty substances (plaques). We want to use imaging technologies (such as high-tech scans) to follow high-risk patients and treat them before the plaques rupture. We will also develop new drugs to treat symptoms of atherosclerosis.

Lung disease In respiratory disease, our focus is on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung fibrosis, acute lung injury and bronchiectasis. Existing treatments do not really stop any of these diseases from getting worse. We will also look at how we can detect lung cancer earlier, as this would have the single largest impact on lung cancer survival.

Coronal and transaxial overlaid SPECT CT image