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New blood test could detect heart disease according to Queen’s University researchers

1/03/2018

Chris Watson

Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast will investigate whether changes in certain genes in the heart can be used as a test to identify coronary heart disease – the UK’s biggest single killer.

Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast will investigate whether changes in certain genes in the heart can be used as a test to identify coronary heart disease – the UK’s biggest single killer.

Funded by national charity Heart Research UK, researchers at Queen’s University Belfast will study the role of ‘DNA methylation’ to learn more about how the most common cause of heart attack develops and becomes worse.

DNA methylation is a process that affects how your genetic code is activated or ‘expressed’. This can be affected by environmental factors, such as reduced oxygen levels, called hypoxia; a characteristic of coronary heart disease (CHD) due to reduced blood flow to the heart muscle.

The aim of the project is to better understand the DNA methylation pattern in the heart and link this to how coronary heart disease develops and becomes worse.  Also, the research team will look at changes in blood levels of some of the newly-identified genes relevant to CHD in heart attack patients and also in patients undergoing surgery to improve blood flow to the heart.

This will show whether these gene markers in the blood could be used as valuable new blood tests to identify coronary heart disease or used to monitor improved heart health.  If successful, the findings may ultimately improve the lives of patients through improved treatment, care strategies and survival. 

Dr Chris Watson, from the Centre for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University Belfast, who is leading the project, said: “Changes in DNA methylation in the diseased heart are potentially reversible. Understanding the disease processes involved in coronary heart disease is key to the development of new future drug treatments which have the potential to improve survival and prolong life expectancy following a heart attack.  At Queen’s we are committed to advancing knowledge which can change lives and through this funding from Heart Research UK we are able to do just that.”

Barbara Harpham, Chief Executive of Heart Research UK, said: “Coronary heart disease is the UK’s biggest single killer, with 70,000 people dying each year. Through funding innovative research projects like this though, we aim to improve the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease.

“This research project in Northern Ireland will not only help bridge the gap between laboratory-based scientific research and patient care, but could potentially help heart patients across the UK live healthier, happier and longer lives.”

Queen’s University Belfast was awarded the special 2017 Heart Research UK Northern Ireland Grant and further grant funding will be offered in 2018 for research projects in Northern Ireland. 

Media inquiries

Media Enquiries to Jemma Greenlees, Queen's Communications Office, comms.office@qub.ac.uk or (+44) 28 9097 3091.

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