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18th November 2020

Professor Neil Herring to receive two major BHF awards

Neil Herring

Exeter College Tutorial Fellow in Preclinical Medicine Professor Neil Herring has been awarded a Senior Clinical Research Fellowship and a Project grant from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to further critical research into the mechanisms behind heart attacks and heart failure and potential drugs to combat them. This recognition is all the more impressive considering the 50% reduction in research investment this year from the BHF due to the impact of COVID-19.

The BHF awarded a Senior Clinical Research Fellowship to Professor Herring, an Associate Professor at the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, to support his group’s work exploring the role of Neuropeptide-Y (NPY) during heart attacks and heart failure. Professor Herring was also awarded a BHF Project grant as a Co-Principal Investigator with Professor Kim Dora in the Department of Pharmacology to explore the mechanisms by which NPY acts on the heart’s small blood vessels during a heart attack.

A heart attack is caused when the blood supply to the heart becomes blocked. Many people still die from this condition owing to life-threatening heart rhythms and/or heart failure, known as a weakened heart. After 50 years of research, beta-blockers are the only drugs that prolong life after a heart attack by preventing dangerous heart rhythms. These drugs target norepinephrine, a chemical that can trigger dangerous heart rhythms when the heart is damaged. Norepinephrine is a type of “neurotransmitter” – chemicals released by a specific group of stimulated nerves.

Through two recent papers in the European Heart Journal and a paper in JAMA Cardiology, the Herring Lab have discovered that the same group of nerves also release a neurotransmitter called neuropeptide-Y (NPY), and that levels of NPY within the heart are very high following a heart attack and during heart failure. They have shown that NPY can trigger dangerous heart rhythms and worsen heart failure by further restricting the heart’s blood supply.

The aims of these new grants are three-fold: to discover whether standard blood samples taken from veins to measure NPY can help doctors identify patients at highest risk of death, to better understand the role that NPY plays in controlling the heart and vasculature through the disease process, and to test the impact of potential drugs that combat its actions.

BHF Senior Clinical Research Fellowships are designed to provide career opportunities in established research institutions in the UK for outstanding Consultant Clinician Scientists with a track record of internationally competitive research who are expected to reach Chair level within 10 years. More information can be found on the BHF’s What we fund webpages.

This article is courtesy of the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, originally published on 12 November 2020.

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