'I realised I didn’t want to be an artist'

15 October 2013        

Category: Research

Dr Rhian Touyz

This Ada Lovelace Day we celebrate the appointment of Rhian Touyz as our newest BHF Professor.

Based at the University of Glasgow, Professor Touyz is aiming to revolutionise our approach to one of the world’s biggest problems – high blood pressure – a major factor in heart disease, kidney disease, stroke and vascular dementia.

“My early life gave little clue to what I would become. As a child in South Africa, the arts were my thing. I went to a specialist school dedicated to art, music and dance. But as university choices loomed, I started to realise that ultimately I didn’t want to be an artist. In fact, inspired by doctors I knew, I realised I wanted to do medicine.

“But with my early education being so arts focused, I couldn’t go straight into medical school – the system just doesn’t allow it. So I did a basic science degree first, and it was then that I fell in love with ‘discovery’. The idea that I could ask a question – any question – and then be able to design an experiment and answer that question was very powerful – and so I was hooked.

High blood pressure is indiscriminating – it happens all over the world and doesn’t seem to be affected by economic status or social class.

“The next step was a degree in medicine – and a Masters degree at the same time. I was doing rounds in a hospital, like every other medical student, when I encountered the person who would give my studies real direction.

Inspiration strikes

“I met a young man who’d had a stroke. Because of the stroke he’d lost the use of all of his limbs – he’d been left a quadriplegic. It was then I found out that the cause of his stroke had been chronic hypertension – or high blood pressure – and that this was a preventable condition.

“This incident really spurred me on – I wanted to find exactly what it is that causes high blood pressure. As a disease it’s indiscriminating – it happens all over the world and doesn’t seem to be affected by economic status or social class – a real universal condition.

Looking deeper

“My work is looking deep into the causes of high blood pressure – at the molecules and proteins that affect our tiniest blood vessels, causing them to function incorrectly, which is a big contributor to hypertension.

“It’s very much like the science celebrated by the 2013 Nobel Prize winners for medicine – I’m looking at the tiny machinery which controls the way substances move inside our bodies.

“I’ve been all over the world in pursuit of this cause, and since 2011 I’ve been based in Glasgow. What drew me here – apart from the world class science and outstanding cardiovascular researchers – was that Scotland and especially Glasgow is particularly affected by cardiovascular disease.

“I see so many patients in my clinic who are struggling to control their blood pressure despite a cocktail of drugs, or who are already seeing the disabling effects of high blood pressure – stroke, heart disease, vascular dementia and more.

“It’s a real privilege to be able to see patients and to work on the science that will bring them hope for a better future at the same time. It really brings the significance of what I’m doing home.

“My hope is that the research my team and I are doing will help us develop treatments that will target the deep-down causes of high blood pressure, and help millions of people live their lives without the fear of where high blood pressure can lead."

Read more about the research we're funding Professor Touyz to do.