The laboratory researcher
Professor Peter Weinberg is Director of Research in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College, London.
His work involves computer modelling of how specific parts of the body work, as well as lab research on cells and animals.
I have family, friends and colleagues who’ve been affected by the disease.
We know that some arteries are more likely to develop fatty plaques than others and that those plaques are more likely to occur in certain parts of the artery. We also know that some arteries seem to be protected from hardening but we don’t know why or how. So we’re using a BHF grant of £1.25m to find out what happens to the inner lining of the artery wall in the early stages of atherosclerosis.
What it involves
Our research can’t be carried out in people so we use arterial cells, animals and computer models of arteries. We’re interested in how the inner lining of the artery wall is affected by the speed of the blood moving through the artery, which also varies from artery to artery and point to point. It’s rather like examining the effect of the flow of water on the inside of a pipe.
We know that LDL cholesterol is absorbed by some arteries more quickly than others
But unlike the inside of a pipe, the lining of an artery is permeable or 'leaky', which means substances, including LDL cholesterol (the harmful type), can pass from the bloodstream though the inner lining and damage the wall. This contributes to the build-up of fats in the artery.
Professor Peter Weinberg We know that LDL cholesterol is absorbed by some arteries more quickly than others and that some parts of an individual artery will absorb it faster than others. We’re now trying to understand what makes some parts of the artery wall more ‘leaky’ than others. We think it’s related to the release of certain molecules by the arterial wall, which in turn depends on the speed of blood flow.
What it means for you
Once we understand which molecules make one part of the artery wall more leaky than others, we could develop a drug that affects them, reducing the LDL absorbed by the arteries around the heart. This could be used alongside a statin, which reduces the amount of LDL produced. Some drugs are under investigation, but won’t be generally available for at least ten years.
Read about Nilesh Samani's research into genetic links to heart disease
Read about Danish Saleheen's research into why heart disease affects more South Asian people
Read about Martin Bennett's clinical trials into which types of fatty plaques are most dangerous
Read about patient Abdul Khan's experience of heart disease