Although cardiovascular diseases are still the main cause of death in the western world, significant progress has been made in the development of new and effective treatments in recent decades. Modern research is therefore focussing increasingly on early diagnosis and prevention. The UMCU key area of “Circulatory Health” revolves around the three P’s: prediction, prognosis and prevention.
The most important subject in our focus area is the study of patient cohorts to find genetic and molecular markers (specific genes or proteins) that increase the patient’s risk of developing a cardiovascular disease or worsen the disease. We use advanced imaging and molecular technology to find the markers. New technologies such as proteomics identify unknown proteins from both the heart and the blood vessels which we then study to determine their function.
Our second major subject area involves researching the ability of stem cells to generate new cardiovascular tissue for patients with life-threatening cardiovascular diseases. Finally, we also conduct pharmaco-epidemiological research so that we can better understand the interaction between drugs and the genome in individual patients in order to prevent side effects.
In the two subjects of our research we are attempting to facilitate individualised patient care through research that relates to the entire spectrum ‘from care to molecule and back’.
Atherosclerotic vascular disease
Patients who visited Utrecht University Medical Center because they had clear symptoms of atherosclerotic vascular disease were also examined for arterial problems in other parts of their cardio-vascular system as part of several research programmes. Patients who have those kinds of problems are then screened for specific genetic and molecular markers.
All patients are monitored for cardiovascular ailments for at least three years, so we hope to identify markers that are signs of the onset of atherosclerosis-related cardiovascular diseases. These markers could help us to set up effective screening and treatment programmes to reduce mortality rates in high-risk patients and improve their quality of life.
A new branch of cardiovascular medicine is conducting research into the regenerative power of stem cells taken from bone marrow as regards repairing damaged tissue. We use the results of animal testing and blood samples taken from patients with cardiovascular diseases to assess the impact of various risk factors on the way in which these stem cells can form new vascular tissue.
A number of members of our focus area recently discovered specific stem cells for the heart. How these cells work as new heart cells now has to be studied at the electrophysiological level to determine their potential for replacing damaged heart tissue.
Pacemakers or Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillators (ICD) are often fitted in patients with cardiac arrhythmia to restore their proper heartbeat in an emergency situation. It is not easy to identify patients with a high risk of cardiac arrhythmia, but the biomarkers developed here will hopefully improve the process. Similar markers can also be used to predict arrhythmogenic side effects from drugs and therefore help in choosing the correct medicine for the individual patient.
The coordinators of this research focus area are:
Prof. M.A. (Marc) Vos
T + 31 30 253 89 00
Prof. G. (Gerard) Pasterkamp
T + 31 30 250 71 55