Scottish universities study cardiovascular diseases

Clues to the causes of serious diseases and conditions, such as heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure, are being investigated at the universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow, with a £1m grant.

Scientists at the universities have made a breakthrough in techniques for exploring faults in ‘smooth’ muscles, which play a major part in controlling blood flow, blood pressure and the digestion of food.

To operate properly, the muscles must act in a co-ordinated way, but how they do so is still not fully understood. However, it is known that calcium plays a part and the researchers have developed an innovative system for looking at calcium in targeted areas of blood cells.

They have received a £1m programme grant from the Wellcome Trust to take their investigation further.

Prof John McCarron of the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences said: ‘The malfunction of smooth muscle is a cause of many debilitating diseases and conditions, and problems with controlling calcium are underlying in conditions such as hypertension. We have to find out how and why it happens if we are to tackle these illnesses.

‘Until now, research in this area had been complicated by the fact that cells that are grown in lab conditions for study very quickly cease to resemble or function like real cells, so the meaning of results from these cells is often unclear.

‘We have now developed an innovative system of analysis that can be applied to real cells, in ways which were not previously possible. This research could help to shape the future of cardiovascular treatments.’

Prof McCarron and his co-investigator, Dr Richard Hartley of Glasgow University, are using a combination of biomedical microscopy and chemical biology. They have developed procedures that can be targeted at specific parts of a cell, so that calcium changes in small areas can be studied, manipulated and understood.