Heart-stopping research wins postgrad prize
16 August 2006
Anabelle Chase, a postgraduate student at the Bristol Heart Institute, won first prize for best oral presentation at the University’s Postgraduate Symposium at the end of last term.
The symposium is held annually, and includes graduate students from the Faculties of Medicine and Dentistry and Medical and Veterinary Sciences. This year 130 students attended from 11 different departments. Anabelle’s abstract was selected as one of only ten oral presentations out of a total of 56 abstracts submitted (the remainder being presented as posters).
About the research
Anabelle’s PhD investigates whether hearts with coronary heart disease respond differently to cardiac surgery than normal hearts. During open-heart surgery on patients, the heart is stopped so that it can be operated on, and blood is kept pumping around the body by a heart-lung machine. Stopping the heart deprives the heart muscle of blood and nutrients, and can cause damage to the heart.
Until recently, lack of any models of coronary disease has meant that all research into ways of protecting the heart during surgery had been carried out on normal hearts – which is not ideal, given that most cardiac surgery involves operating on heats with coronary artery disease.
But researchers at the Bristol Heart Institute, led by Dr Chris Jackson, developed a mouse model of coronary heart disease, where mice were fed a high-fat diet, and atherosclerotic plaques develop inside their blood vessels, in an identical way to humans. This deprives the heart muscle of blood and oxygen (ischaemia), causing long-term damage of the heart muscle, and/or a heart attack if the vessel becomes completely blocked.
Anabelle found that the hearts from mice fed a high-fat diet actually recovered better after conditions mimicking cardiac surgery than normal mice. It seemed they had been ‘preconditioned’ by being exposed to ischaemia already. This has important implications when designing ways of protecting hearts during surgery. Anabelle is now extending these studies to single heart cells, to better understand the mechanisms that cause this ‘preconditioning’ effect.
Anabelle gained a degree in Physiology from the University of Bristol, and decided to do her PhD project on the basis of its ‘obvious clinical relevance’. She is based at the Bristol Heart Institute (Department of Clinical Science at South Bristol), supervised by Professor Saadeh Suleiman. Working alongside clinicians and scientists has enabled her to get the best of both worlds – basic laboratory-based research and its clinical application.
Anabelle enjoys the research immensely, especially the opportunities it has given her to travel and interact with scientists from all over the world – for example, she presented her work at a joint meeting of the British and Brazilian Physiological Societies in Brazil in August. It is this feedback and interaction with other students and colleagues that has kept her going through some difficult times. She admits that sometimes doing a PhD has been difficult: ‘it can get a bit lonely when it’s just me and my cell’. Despite this, Anabelle plans to continue a career in research, preferably ‘somewhere hot’.