Professor Shoumo Bhattacharya and his team are investigating the importance of genes and environmental factors in congenital heart disease and heart failure.
More than 4,600 babies are born each year with congenital heart disease. There are many types - the heart's vessels or valves may not form properly or there could be holes between the chambers of the heart.
Hunting for crucial genes
In most cases, congenital heart disease develops because something has gone wrong during the crucial stage in foetal heart development - between six and twelve weeks after conception.
Some heart conditions in babies are due to faulty genes or chromosomal abnormalities. Professor Bhattacharya's team are identifying which genes are critical for the heart to develop normally.
Many of these genes are also important for maintaining heart function in the adult - defects in them can lead to heart failure, particularly if the heart has been stressed.
The Oxford team is using genetic techniques and state-of the art imaging technology to study how alterations in these genes affect the structure of the heart and lead to these conditions.
With colleagues at Oxford, the researchers are also developing new genetic technology that may enable us to screen for congenital heart disease.
This work is boosted by the new BHF-funded Centre for Cardiovascular Target Discovery at Oxford.
Identifying environmental factors
Heart failure can result after damage to the heart muscle – such as after a heart attack – and around 700,000 people are living with heart failure in the UK.
Professor Bhattacharya's team are investigating how environmental factors and gene variations act together to influence the development of congenital heart disease and heart failure.
In particular, they are studying how the mother's diet affects the chances of congenital heart disease in the baby. They are also investigating how stress (such as high blood pressure) interacts with gene variations to cause heart failure.
Understanding how these gene–environment combinations affect heart development and function may lead to new ways of preventing these conditions.
Read more about how our achievements in congenital heart disease research and heart failure research are improving life for those affected.