Press release issued 1 March 2012High blood pressure is known as the world’s biggest silent killer because most people can’t “feel” their blood pressure going up. It affects one in three people and can cause stroke, heart attacks and kidney failure. To help combat this chronic condition researchers from Bristol in collaboration with colleagues in Brazil have been awarded £2.7 million to determine possible new treatments.
While most high blood pressure treatments target the kidneys, this research will look at determining new treatments that target the nervous system to lower blood pressure. The team will explore how the genes in the brain trigger this condition, and study how sleep apnoea, ageing and exercise affect the activity of these genes.
The research, comprising academics from the University of Bristol, the Bristol Heart Institute and the University of São Paulo, is funded by the Biotechnology & Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC), the State of São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP, Brazil) and the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
Professor Julian Paton, a lead researcher from the University’s School of Physiology and Pharmacology, and co-applicant on the BBSRC and two BHF grants, said: “Remarkably, up to 50 per cent of patients on blood pressure tablets continue to have high blood pressure, and many suffer from unpleasant side effects which affect their quality of life.
“Given the high numbers of patients suffering from high blood pressure, and the poor ability to control it with conventional drug therapy that targets the kidney, it is imperative that we now focus our attention to the nervous system. The BBSRC and British Heart Foundation funding, together with two clinical research fellowships, have given us a great opportunity to translate and test our ideas of new treatments for high blood pressure.
"We are using tissue from brain banks to determine the genes and their interactions during the development of high blood pressure and studying how the environment may have affect their activity. This information may provide novel drug targets as well as ways to improve current drug treatments. We are also using a specialised technique called 'microneurography' that allows recording of single nerve fibres that control artery diameter. This permits a direct assessment of the level of brain activity that is controlling our blood pressure."
Professor David Murphy, Professor of Experimental Medicine at the University’s School of Clinical Sciences, who led the BBSRC and BHF grants added: “We will now look at the regulation of genes in specific brain regions controlling blood pressure and assess how sleep apnoea, exercise and ageing influence them. This information may provide us with much needed new insight into the design of effective treatment strategies aimed at the nervous system for more efficacious control of blood pressure.”
These new funds will bolster synergy between the University of Bristol, the Bristol Heart Institute and University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust enabling collaborative research aimed at combating high blood pressure. The funds will further the development of The Bristol Neuro-Cardiovascular Network, a truly multi-disciplinary approach that bridges laboratory based research to improved patient treatment.
In addition, a Specialist Hypertension Research Clinic has also been started at the Bristol Heart Institute to specifically assist patients with hard to control blood pressure. Dr Angus Nightingale, who runs the clinic, commented: “The recently set up hypertension research clinic in the Bristol Heart Institute represents a new way of working between the NHS and University of Bristol. We now have the means to rapidly turn the novel ideas of our scientists in Bristol into benefits for patients in the city and, indeed, across the South West region with difficult to treat high blood pressure."
Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: “We’re very pleased to be supporting this team at the University of Bristol, who we’ve awarded almost £1 million in the past year. Because high blood pressure is poorly understood and treatments are not always effective, research like this to shed new light on its causes could lead to real patient benefit in the future.”
Remarkably, up to 50 per cent of patients on blood pressure tablets continue to have high blood pressure, and many suffer from unpleasant side effects which affect their quality of life. Given the high numbers of patients suffering from high blood pressure, and the poor ability to control it with conventional drug therapy that targets the kidney, it is imperative that we now focus our attention to the nervous system.