Dr Nicola Smart, BHF Ian Fleming Fellow

James Bond author Ian Fleming passed away as a result of heart disease. His family have been tremendous supporters of our cause and we named a Fellowship in his honour. Meet Dr Nicola Smart, the BHF Ian Fleming Research Fellow, and find out about her research to mend broken hearts.

Dr Nicola Smart is one of our Senior Research Fellows funded by the Mending Broken Hearts Appeal. With your support Nicola is running her own lab at the University of Oxford where she's investigating new ways to repair the damage caused by a heart attack, and help people with heart failure

Repairing a broken heart is no easy feat. Hearts are made up of lots of different types of cell and blood vessels which all have to be aligned correctly to keep the heart's shape and pass on the electrical pulse of the heartbeat. 

When someone has a heart attack, heart muscle cells die and are not replaced. But Nicola is rising to the challenge to try and regenerate damaged hearts.

Waking up the heart

Nicola's research is focused on the cell layer that covers the surface of the heart, called the epicardium. She wants to build on a previous discovery, in mice, that there are cells in the epicardium with the ability to grow new heart tissue. But the problem with all these cells is that they are lying dormant. 

Luckily, there might be a way to "wake up" these cells. Nicola has worked on a number of different methods, testing molecules called thymosin beta-4 and LRP1. She found that thymosin beta-4 causes cells from the outer layer of the heart to move to the site of damage and make new muscle and blood vessels. Unfortunately, it is not especially good at activating the epicardial cells by itself, so it needs a boost. 

What's next? 

Nicola is now focusing on LRP1, a different molecule which appear to help thymosin beta-4 work better. She hopes LRP1 can provide the boost that thymosin beta-4 needs to encourage new muscle to grow and repair damaged heart tissue. 

Her hope in the future is to develop the findings into human trials. The ultimate aim is to make a drug that could be used to treat heart attack victims and mend their broken hearts.  

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