February 4th, 2011.
The Heart Research Institute will this year broaden its research areas, establishing a new research team headed by Dr Christina Bursill. The Immunobiology Unit will focus on a previously under researched area of heart disease - small proteins called chemokines - and examine their role in vascular inflammation.
“Atherosclerosis develops because of an accumulation of inflammatory cells in the walls of blood vessels and leads to the formation of plaque that can ultimately cause heart attack or stroke. Chemokines are key contributors to the development of this disease, ” Dr Bursill said.
“My previous research revealed that a short-term series of injections of “good cholesterol” or HDL, were able to reduce the expression of chemokines in atherosclerotic plaques by around 35% and in the circulation by around 40%, thus slowing the development of disease.”
Dr Bursill said lifestyle issues such as smoking, alcohol, diet and lack of exercise cause damage to vascular cells. Our body produces chemokines when it detects cell damage and their number and level of activity grows in response to this inflammation. These findings clearly revealed a link between HDL and its capacity to suppress the progression of atherosclerosis by regulating the activity of chemokines. The new Immunobiology Unit received Heart Foundation and NH&MRC funding and will consist of 5 researchers headed up by Dr Bursill, who completed her PhD studies in nutrition at Adelaide University before working as a post-doctoral fellow at Oxford University for 5 years.
“Chemokines play an important role in inflammation, yet have had little press coverage in the past. My work will focus on teasing out the important role they play in heart disease,” Dr Bursill said.
“By better understanding their role, we can hopefully develop chemokine inhibitors which could suppress the development of atherosclerosis and associated cardiovascular diseases.
“This is certainly an up and coming, cutting edge, area of heart research and we are still in the process of discovering what these proteins do, so I am pleased the HRI is able to support this new area of research.”
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