Northern Ireland Grant

Dr Chris Watson, Queen’s University Belfast

Amount: £149,540

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common cause of a heart attack and is one of the single, biggest killers in the UK. Understanding the disease processes involved in coronary heart disease is key to the development of new drug treatments. A better understanding also helps in the development of new blood tests for diagnosis and for monitoring how well treatments are working. Dr Watson and his team will study ‘DNA methylation’ – a process that affects how your genetic code is activated or ‘expressed’. DNA methylation can change due to environmental factors including reduced oxygen levels, called hypoxia, which is a characteristic of coronary heart disease due to reduced blood flow to the heart muscle. Changes in DNA methylation in the diseased heart is potentially reversible and may form the basis of new treatments in the future.

The aim of this project is to better understand the DNA methylation pattern in the heart and link this to how coronary heart disease develops and becomes worse. The team will examine human heart tissue from patients with CHD and study the methylation patterns of their genetic code and how this relates to disease. They will also take these findings into lab-based studies to further study the roles of changing DNA methylation in hypoxia and the subsequent development of disease. They 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 help to improve the lives of patients through improved treatment, care strategies and survival.

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