The Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport Vaughan Gething AM, visited the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Cymru funded research group recently, which is led by Professor Alan Williams at Swansea University.
In Wales, two young people, aged under 35, die every month from an undiagnosed heart condition and around 30,000 people in Wales have a faulty gene that can cause an inherited heart-related condition – the research is working to reduce this number.
The Cabinet Secretary was able to take a tour of the project’s laboratories at the Medical School’s Institute of Life Science on the Singleton Campus to learn more about the state of the art techniques used to study abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmias, which can be fatal.
To pump blood around our bodies effectively, heart muscle cells contract and relax in a rhythmic way. Contraction and relaxation occurs partly through the controlled flow of calcium ions around the cells, and faults can cause sometimes life-threatening irregularities in our heart’s rhythm, called arrhythmia.
Professor Williams and his team are at the forefront of current research into the mechanisms that underpin abnormal heart rhythms. They investigate how the release of calcium from stores found inside every one of the billions of cells that make up the heart becomes disrupted in disease. Their work is revealing mechanisms that are common to lethal early-onset heart arrhythmias suffered by children as a result of genetic mutations and to the progressive heart disease epidemic in the adult population.
BHF Professor Alan Williams said:
“BHF funding enables the research team to carry out detailed investigations underpinning the molecular defects that can cause the heart’s rhythm to fall out of sync. With this knowledge, we can predict which medicines are likely to work best against these faults, which should enable effective and personalised treatments for patients.
“We work with expert researchers from across the world to develop new treatments for heart disease and these insights will ultimately improve the clinical management of patients. By strengthening partnerships with clinicians, engineers and computer scientists we are benefitting from the supportive environment of Swansea University and are helping it grow into Wales’s home for cardiovascular research.”
During the visit, The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething said:
“I’m pleased to be here to recognise the important work of Professor Williams and his team at Swansea University Medical School. Cardiac research is hugely important and offers benefits to patients such as evidence based best practice and a clearer understanding of the causes of heart conditions.
“We recognise the significant work undertaken by the British Heart Foundation and their continued investments in heart research in Wales. I look forward to continue working with the BHF Cymru, the Medical School and other partners.”
Professor Keith Lloyd, Dean of Swansea University’s Medical School, said:
“We are delighted to host this £2.3million research project at the Medical School. The research is ground-breaking and is also helping to deliver the Medical School’s strategy to make a real difference to the lives of the people in Wales, and beyond.
“Each child of someone with an inherited heart condition has a 50 per cent chance of inheriting the same faulty gene. But the majority of people remain undiagnosed. This work is helping to change that. I congratulate Professor Williams and his team on their work and am delighted the Cabinet Secretary has been given the opportunity to see this work up close here at the Medical School.”
Adam Fletcher, Head of BHF Cymru, added:
“The research we fund at the Medical School is a perfect example of the BHF’s contribution to the transformation of laboratory science in to potentially lifesaving tests and treatments for patients. This project is just one of over 1,000 BHF-funded research projects seeking to make breakthroughs across all aspects of heart and circulatory disease.
“We look forward to continue working with the Cabinet Minister and Swansea University over the coming years in supporting research projects in Wales which will feed into the development of focused therapies for frightening and dangerous conditions.”