Leading researchers at Cardiff University have been awarded a major grant for research into a cardiovascular condition for which there is currently no known treatment, other than surgery.
The award of more than £740,000 by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) will fund the continued research by Professors Valerie O’Donnell and Peter Collins into abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA) for another three years.
The BHF is the single biggest independent funder of cardiovascular research in the UK and currently funds around £3m of research at Swansea and Cardiff universities. Professor O’Donnell and her team has been provisionally awarded £1.2m over five years, with an initial three-year grant of £740,000 from the charity.
Professor O’Donnell’s work explores how lipids in the blood influence the growth of AAAs. These are swellings of the aorta, which is the main blood vessel that runs from the heart down through the chest and abdomen. People with AAA are usually monitored to see if the swelling gets bigger, as they will then need surgery.
There are currently no treatments to prevent the aneurysm from getting bigger, but studies suggest that blood clotting may be involved. Professors O’Donnell and Collins recently found that certain fats in the blood, called phospholipids could be involved in the development of AAA, because they promote clotting. This BHF-funded research will study two of these phospholipids to understand how they regulate clotting during the development of AAA. The research will use tissue and blood samples collected from patients, in collaboration with colleagues at Oxford University. Working with researchers in Cambridge and Aberdeen, the study will also look at the underlying biological mechanisms by which the phospholipids interact with clotting factors from blood.
The BHF has also recently funded 50% towards a new instrument for identifying and measuring lipids called a mass spectrometer. This is vital to Professor O’Donnell’s research and will enable further research into heart and circulatory conditions including stroke, aneurysms, heart attacks and how Covid-19 affects the heart and circulatory system.
Professor O’Donnell explains:
“This new facility will allow us to discover new lipids, to measure them and better understand their structure. Our research is focussed on those lipids which regulate the formation of clots and increase the risk of heart and circulatory diseases including heart attacks and strokes. The funding from the BHF along with financial support from Cardiff University and public donations means we can make real progress with this specialised research in Wales.
Head of BHF Cymru Adam Fletcher said:
“Funding researchers like Professors O’Donnell, Collins and their team has never been more important. There are 340,000 people in Wales living with heart and circulatory diseases, and we need to ensure funding is maintained for researchers in Wales, and the rest of the UK looking to find scientific breakthroughs which will help to prevent, treat and cure these diseases.
“The BHF’s net income is likely to fall by 50% this financial year due to the temporary closure of our shops and cancellation of many of our fundraising events. COVID-19 has cut our ability to fund new research in half, at a time when it’s needed more than ever. It’s crucial that we can continue to support projects like this which could transform the lives of those with heart and circulatory diseases.”