The influence of the central nervous system on long-term blood pressure levels and the relationship between blood pressure and stress pathways in the brain is a major focus of the studies in the Neuropharmacology Laboratory.
The research centres on cardiovascular neuroscience and fills a niche between the clinic and basic research. Work is carried out to understand the mechanisms that trigger cardiovascular diseases through environmental factors. Stress and hypertension is a main area of investigation, and research is also being conducted on the effects on the central nervous system and control of the cardiovascular system of obesity and other metabolic disorders.
Major recent discoveries from a mouse bred for high blood pressure are that a small region of the brain, called the amygdala that is known to regulate emotion, is also the cause of the hypertension through activation of the nervous system. These mice also have exaggerated day night differences in blood pressure. Professor Head and his team hope that better understanding circadian patterns, the day/night oscillations of blood pressure, will shed light on why people are two to three times more likely to have a stroke or other cardiovascular event in the early part of the day. By analysing ambulatory blood pressure in patients against Professor Head’s mathematical model, the underlying mechanisms that trigger heart attack and stroke can be better understood.
Another research focus of this laboratory is investigating a better treatment for congestive heart failure. People with heart failure — a serious, progressive disease — have as little as a 50 per cent, five year survival rate. ElaCor Pty Ltd is a company established in 2005 to further develop research conducted in collaboration with IMBCom at the University of Queensland. The ElaCor technology is based on the discovery of a group of natriuretic peptides — part of the body's natural response to heart failure — isolated from the venom of the Taipan snake. The lead compound is showing great promise as a treatment for congestive heart failure and has outperformed human natriuretic peptides in early studies.
- Determining the cause and consequence of the morning surge in blood pressure in humans.
- Contribution of the sympathetic nervous system to hypertension in Schlager mice.
- Role of the brain renin-angiotensin system in cardiovascular regulation.
- Central pathways mediating obesity related hypertension in rabbits.
- Whether a high fat maternal diet ‘programs’ hypertension.
- Snake derived natriuretic peptides for the treatment of heart failure.