Fostering collaboration and supporting early career researchers

Bristol Heart Institute installation in Royal fort Gardens, Bristol

Eighty Bristol Heart Institute researchers joined ‘Fostering collaboration and supporting early career researchers’, our 5th Annual Meeting on 19 November 2021. The day was an opportunity not only to get to know some of the research taking place in the University’s Specialist Research Institute, but also the researchers driving it forward.

BHI researcher talks

In the first session on cardiac surgery, Massimo Caputo looked at tissue engineering, combining surgical facilities and imaging technologies in ‘hybrid’ theatre, cardiac 3D printing to help plan operations and how advances in VR technology are taking this to the next level.

Next, Tom Johnson, Consultant Cardiologist and recently appointed Associate Professor, examined a range of cardiovascular research priorities, from intracoronary imaging to industry collaboration, AV Cath lab broadcasting to encourage collaboration and the potential for system-wide datasets to enhance patient outcomes.

Jules Hancox from the School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience shared some thoughts on career progression for early career researchers, including memorable advice about choosing a research project: “Interesting is not equivalent to important” – a trap that all researchers fall into from time to time, he acknowledged!

To wrap up the morning’s talks, Deborah Lawlor discussed Bristol’s epidemiological research in the BHI.


For the plenary we welcomed Professor Andrew Taylor, Director of Innovation at Great Ormond Street Hospital and Head of Cardiovascular Imaging at UCL Institute of Cardiovascular Science, to talk about innovating in cardiovascular research. Using examples such as fast imaging protocols and the potential for delivering precision medicine via AI, he looked at why putting innovations into clinical practice at pace remains challenging, and how ongoing interaction between researchers and clinical teams is vital.

Quickfire presentations

BHI PhD students and early career researchers were invited to present their work in five minutes in three themed sessions covering epidemiology, basic science and clinical research. Attendees voted for the best presentation in each session – well done to:

  • Lucy Goudswaard: “Combining Mendelian randomisation and randomised control trial study designs to determine effects of adiposity on the plasma proteome”
  • Stanley Buffonge: “The battle to protect the coronary microvascular endothelial glycocalyx in diabetes”
  • Monica Gamez: “Endothelial glycocalyx heparan sulfate contributes to the integrity of the blood-retina-barrier and can be therapeutically targeted in diabetes mellitus”

Thank you

Thanks to everyone who took part in the meeting and especially to the organising committee, without whom the day wouldn’t have been possible: Alexander Carpenter, Alba Fernandez-Sanles, Laura Pannell, Eva Sammut and Andrew Shearn, along with Giovanni Biglino and Stuart Mundell.

Laura says:

“It was a fantastic day showcasing research the BHI can be proud of, and will enable the development of collaborative relationships for many years to come!”


MINOCA study recruitment wraps up

Principal Investigator Matt Williams on the MINOCA study, which completed its recruitment phase at UHBW in March.

One in 10 patients who suffer a suspected heart attack do not have a blocked or narrowed heart artery. These patients are classified as having a myocardial infarction with non-obstructive coronary arteries (MINOCA).

Previously thought to be low risk, MINOCA patients were often discharged with no treatment or follow up. However, research shows that these patients have mortality of nearly five per cent at only 12 months.

MINOCA patients are more likely to have had a stressful event prior to admission and a history of anxiety or depression. Previous research has even suggested that people with a stress cardiomyopathy – a common cause of MINOCA – have structural and functional differences in their brain, which may lead to differences in emotional processing and increased sympathetic drive  compared to people who do not develop this condition in response to stress.

The MINOCA study is investigating for the first time this link between the heart and the brain in MINOCA patients.

Over the last two years, our team has conducted a functional brain MRI and a cardiac MRI, as well as blood tests, ECGs and questionnaires, on 100 participants within two weeks of being admitted to hospital, with follow up MRI scans at six weeks and six months.

We are looking to see if patients with MINOCA have specific functional and anatomical changes in their brain which might explain why they develop this condition. Ultimately, it may be possible to target increased stress related brain activity to reduce the risk of this condition and improve patient outcomes.

Our study has been funded by grants from Above and Beyond, the James Tudor Foundation and the Rosetrees Trust.

This post first appeared in the March 2021 BHI Newsletter