Matters of the heart

February is just around the corner and the shops are already littered with teddies, novelty balloons and red roses. The countdown to enforced-displays-of-affection-day… that is, Valentine’s Day begins!  

Meanwhile cardiovascular scientists at the University of Glasgow are preparing for a slightly different exploration of our favourite vital organ.  On 25th February, the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences is opening its doors to the public, with talks, hands-on activities and a unique insight into heart research.  We chatted to Heather Small about her work with the British Heart Foundation and what to expect on the open day . . . 

British Heart Foundation

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Heather Small and I am a first year PhD student on the British Heart Foundation four year PhD programme.

Certain cancer drugs work by blocking the tumour’s blood supply, which can lead to high blood pressure.  My research investigates the consequences of this high blood pressure on blood vessels.

This research can lead to more effective cancer treatments and a better understanding of how the vessels in our body respond to high blood pressure in general.

Where is heart and vessel disease research headed? What are researchers hoping to find out?

As with most fields of human health research, “diseases of the heart and vessels” is really a large umbrella with many specific sub-types of disease underneath.

We are hoping to target new treatments more accurately to each specific sub-group and even begin to unravel personal “profiles” of disease, treating each patient on an individual basis, which we hope to be able to achieve from a simple blood test.

What first got you interested in a career in science and what advice would you give people thinking about working in research?

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity of a summer job in the research and development department of Organon Laboratories when I was 16. During this time, being able to come into work every day and ask questions about aspects of human biology that no one has previously explored inspired me down a career of research science and continues to do so today.

How did you get involved with the British Heart Foundation fundraising group?

During my final year of university, my dad underwent heart surgery after a problem being picked up by chance by our family GP. I saw first-hand the help and support that the BHF gave my dad in his recovery from something as big as the care of a specialist cardiac nurse to a leaflet on how to understand his condition – this really motivated me to give something back not just in terms of my research but in helping to raise funds for a worthwhile cause close to my heart.

What fundraising events have you taken part in?

Our group only formed in October last year but we have been very busy since. My colleagues and I took part in the Winter Warmer run in Pollok Park one freezing October morning! We also hosted a comedy night and raffle in Mansion House in the city centre which was a really fun night to be a part of. We are currently organising our Ramp up the Red Tea Party on the 7th February and our Institute Open Day to celebrate BHF Heart Month.


Heather and her colleagues at the Winter Warmer Run, Pollok Park

What can we expect from the open day? Why should we come along?

Our open day is on the 25th February when we will have a guided tour of our research facilities in the afternoon (2-4.30pm) and evening (5.30-7.30pm). This will be no ordinary guided tour however! We have many hands-on stations set up to let people have a real appreciation of the work we do in heart research every day. This will showcase our MRI unit, clinical floor, vessel and cardiac biology laboratories and our work on a smaller scale with cells and DNA.

The public fund the government and the BHF by visiting their retails shops and they should know how their money is spent! It should also make us proud that world renowned research is happening right on our doorstep. Most of all, it is supposed to be fun so come along for a great night full of interactive activities and maybe you will learn something new too!

The Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences Open Day is on Tuesday 25th February.  Events are FREE but registration is required.  Register online here.