Professor Costanza Emanueli and her team at the University of Bristol are focused on improving the lives of people with cardiovascular disease by finding new ways to encourage blood vessel growth to repair damaged hearts as well as by developing new approaches to predict and combat some of the complications caused by cardiac surgery. To supercharge that science and ensure it benefits patients as soon as possible, she is collaborating with researchers across the UK, from London (where she is an honorary professor at Imperial College London) to Edinburgh and Glasgow, and around the world.
Diabetes and heart disease
Professor Emanueli’s research programme centres on diabetes and coronary heart disease. Having diabetes increases a person’s risk of developing coronary heart disease and it makes the disease worse by damaging the small blood vessels of the heart.
One treatment for coronary heart disease, where the large blood vessels supplying blood to heart become narrowed causing chest pain, is heart bypass surgery. In the UK, bypass surgery is performed very frequently and can be life-changing by reducing the stress on the heart caused by the narrowed arteries.
But bypass surgery is not perfect – it cannot fix the smaller blood vessel damage associated with diabetes and the operation can cause complications, including kidney damage, especially in people with diabetes. Professor Emanueli is working to find a treatment for the small blood vessels and find ways to better predict the outcome of surgery, so doctors can manage patients to reduce the risk of complications.
BHF Professors Andrew Newby and Gianni Angelini are also based at the University of Bristol and work with Professor Costanza Emanueli across many different research projects.
Tiny molecules with huge potential
MicroRNAs are small molecules which help to control which proteins are turned on and which are turned off within the cell. MicroRNAs can travel between cells inside small containers called extracellular vesicles (exosomes and microparticles), which have been recently discovered to be natural delivery vehicles, transferring microRNAs from one cell to another.
Learn more about microRNA research in Heart Matters.
Professor Emanueli’s research has shown that microRNAs carried in extracellular vesicles are involved in controlling the health of blood vessels in diabetes. Her team also provided the first evidence that microRNAs can be manipulated to reverse the effects of diabetes on blood vessels. Her current research therefore aims to develop microRNAs delivered in vesicles as novel therapies for heart and blood vessel disease.
They are also studying whether measuring levels of certain microRNAs released by heart cells inside vesicles before and during cardiac surgery can predict whether a person is at greater risk of complications afterwards. This could lead to new tests to help surgeons ensure the best possible results from the bypass operation.
Mending broken hearts together
Our BHF Professors David Newby and Andrew Baker are also working with Professor Emanueli, and many other leading UK scientists, through one of our Centres of Regenerative Medicine, funded by our Mending Broken Hearts appeal.
Professor Emanueli’s research to mend broken hearts could help people like Lorraine living with heart failure. Lorraine’s heart can no longer pump properly because of the damage caused by a heart attack.
Find out more about the research we fund here.