There are many areas in which the University of Leicester has led not only in the UK but internationally in pioneering new approaches and treatments through research.
1. Genetic Factors in Heart Disease
The University of Leicester has one of the foremost groups undertaking cardiovascular genetics research internationally. Three major projects underpin this research: The BHF Family Heart Study, The British Genetics of Hypertension (BRIGHT) Study and The Genetic Regulation of Arterial Pressure of Humans in the Community (GRAPHIC) Study. Through these projects, Professor Nilesh Samani, British Heart Foundation Chair at the University, is leading ground-breaking work in understanding the inherited basis of heart diseases. Through international collaboration his team have been involved in the discovery of more than 30 genes linked to risk of heart attacks. The findings are providing new approaches for predicting and treating heart disease.
2. Advances in Controlling Blood Pressure
Professor Bryan Williams, of the University of Leicester, is recognised as one of the leading experts worldwide in high blood pressure. He was one of the principal UK investigators in international research into the early addition of statins in patients treated for hypertension. The study highlighted the importance of initiating medical treatment for both blood pressure and cholesterol as soon as possible, and raised questions about medical guidelines that do not focus on early intensive treatment of multiple risk factors, notably blood pressure and cholesterol, in patients with moderate cardiac risk. It has had a major impact on health care guidelines in the UK and is a good example of the translation of clinical research into clinical practice for the benefit of patients both in Leicester and beyond.
Professor William’s collaboration with a Singapore-based medical device company has led to the development of a world-first technique for taking an accurate blood pressure measurement in the aorta closer to the heart and brain. This will enable doctors to more accurately assess a patient’s risk of stroke and heart disease.
3. Stents for Coronary Heart Disease
Professor Anthony Gershlick, Professor of Interventional Cardiology at the University, has led two studies that have revolutionised treatment for a heart attack. He found that angioplasty (using a balloon and stent to open up a blocked artery) can cut the risk of adverse outcome by half for patients suffering a heart attack, where conventional clot-busting drugs have failed to open the vessel. The research funded by the British Heart Foundation and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that even when it takes longer to move a patient to a hospital to perform the angioplasty, the benefits outweigh any disadvantages. A second investigation to address problems when a patient’s cells begin to grow inside the stent, re-blocking the artery, discovered that this could be prevented by coating the stent with the anti-cancer drug paclitaxel, or the antirejection drug rapamycin. Angioplasty alone can fail in as many as one in five patients. Now, the use of these ‘drug-eluting’ stents can cut the failure rate almost to zero. This is a major advance as every year 1.3 million people have angioplasty and the number is increasing, so the effects worldwide will be enormous.
Professor Ross Naylor, Honorary Professor of Vascular Surgery at the University & Consultant Vascular Surgeon, and his team have made the surgical procedure of carotid endarterectomy, for preventing strokes, much safer by reducing the likelihood of post-operative complications. The techniques they have painstakingly developed are used by vascular surgeons world-wide. Professor Tom Robinson is a nationally respected figure in the treatment of stroke and leads major trials on the management of acute stroke and hypertension including CHHIPS (Controlling Hypertension and Hypotension Immediately Post Stroke).
5. Diabetes Prevention
Professor Melanie Davies, Professor of Diabetes Medicine, University of Leicester and Honorary Consultant, University Hospitals of Leicester, is an internationally respected Professor of Diabetes Medicine and leads a team with national and international expertise in screening, prevention and educational programmes for people both with and at risk of diabetes. Professor Davies received major funding from the Department of Health for her work on a community-based primary prevention programme for Type 2 diabetes. The condition affects over 2 million people in England alone, shortening lives and potentially risking damage to eyes, kidneys, feet and heart. By developing an effective programme for lifestyle modification which will be feasible and effective in the UK, doctors can identify those at highest risk of diabetes, and can use a programme already shown to be effective in people with established diabetes. Professor Davies’ work aims to show that it is possible to significantly reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, as well as having an effect on weight, quality of life, physical activity levels, dietary change and blood pressure.
6. Valve Replacement Surgery
Dr Jan Kovac and his colleagues at Glenfield Hospital are behind the keyhole heart valve replacement procedure (TAVI), which made British medical history when it was first performed at Glenfield Hospital in January 2007. The technique allows heart valves to be implanted using a catheter sparing patients from having open heart surgery. Dr Kovac received the highly regarded NHS Innovation Award for this procedure, and has been performed more than 80 times with excellent results. Dr Kovac and the team of cardiac specialists have also established a programme for training colleagues from cardiac centres in the UK and abroad. They continue to work on further innovations for minimally invasive cardiac therapies. Dr Kovac’s team has also identified other procedures that can be undertaken on people who are at risk of having open heart surgery, for example a clip that can be used to help patients with a particular type of mitral valve disease.
Dr Andre Ng is a senior lecturer in Cardiology at the University and a Consultant Cardiologist & Electrophysiologist. He is an expert in the management of cardiac arrhythmias especially in catheter ablation and the use of mapping systems. He recently carried out the world’s first heart operation using a robotic arm in combination with advanced 3-dimensional mapping to fix an irregular heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation). Usually carried out by hand, a robotic system is best suited for this type of ablation as it is more precise and less tiring for the cardiologist. Dr Ng and his team are also actively involved in the development and evaluation a new technology, LifeMapTM, to identify people at risk of lethal heart rhythm disturbances. . This technology has won a number of awards including a Medical Futures Innovation Award in 2011
8. Vascular Surgery
Professor Nick Brindle, Professor of Cell Signalling at the University and his group are international leaders in the field of cellular communication in the cardiovascular system. They are working to develop new ways of growing replacement blood vessels and repairing damaged vessels in patients with vascular and heart disease. Understanding angiogenesis (the growth of new blood vessels) is crucial to reduce morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular disease, alleviate developmental problems, and maximise reparative tissue remodelling.
Professor Brindle focuses particularly on the communication pathways that maintain the cardiovascular system, how problems with these pathways can lead to disease and how we can target parts of these communication systems to develop new medicines. Investigating cell signalling helps us understand the complex intercommunications between cells and helps with treating cardiovascular and other diseases, repairing damaged tissue and has potential for growing replacement body parts. Understanding the importance of some of these signalling pathways is crucial for development of new medicines and for potentially harnessing the principles of biological communication systems in nanotechnology.
9. Platelet Biology and Haemostatic Mechanisms
Professor Alison Goodall is a specialist in the study of thrombotic disease and has expertise in the management of large-scale studies of biomarkers and genetics. She will lead the new Leicester Biobank facility and is also a Founding Director of a University of Leicester Spin-out company,Haemostatix Ltd, which is developing first-in-class clotting agents for the treatment of bleeding. Professor Goodall’s research includes clinical studies investigating the relationship between platelet responsiveness and the functional and clinical efficacy of anti-platelet drugs. Currently, through Professor Goodall as co investigator, Leicester is taking part in a European Union FP7 Integrated Project; PRESTIGE (2010-2014) to investigate the causes and potential prevention of stent thrombosis in coronary artery disease patients.