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Student research project

Supervisor(s): Morag Young

Project summary

Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle weakens and is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. It is a major public health issue, affecting 30,000 patients each year in Australia. Recent research shows that the hormones aldosterone and cortisol may play a key role in heart muscle deterioration by activating the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR).

Patients with high blood pressure caused by primary aldosteronism (PA) have excessive aldosterone in their blood and are particularly at risk of heart failure. Drugs which block the MR will block the effect of these hormones, and therefore improve heart failure. However, these drugs can cause salt imbalance in the blood because they also block MR in the kidney which is important for salt handling.

In addition, treatment for heart failure is often delayed as early heart failure is difficult to diagnose with non-specific symptoms of fatigue and shortness of breath. There isn’t a simple blood test to diagnose heart failure. We have investigated circulating white blood cells in patients with heart failure before and after they are treated with MR blockers and detected blood markers that correspond to functional changes in the heart and that may predict a patient’s response to treatment. These markers may also be suitable therapeutic targets for new heart failure drugs which do not cause kidney-related side effects.

Related methods, skills or technologies

This project is suitable for a Masters, Honours or PhD student and will involve working with primary cells from patients, cell lines and molecular techniques including RT PCR, transfection, FACS and bioinformatic tools to understand the regulation, and role, of new biomarkers in circulating cells and in heart disease.

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