The 21st annual meeting of the Scottish Cardiovascular Forum (SCF) was held on the 3rd of February in Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, Trinity College Dublin. The SCF is a meeting focused on different aspects of cardiovascular research including vascular dysfunction, inflammation, oxidative stress, cardiac and vascular remodelling.
The beauty of the SCF is that it provides a platform for undergraduate students, PhD students and postdocs to present their research findings in a comfortable and encouraging environment alongside principal investigators and leaders in cardiovascular research. It enables open discussion among all participants and facilitates the exchange of new ideas, new connections and networking opportunities among basic science and translational cardiovascular researchers from Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and England.
This year’s programme was delivered primarily by PhD students and postdocs of all stages and included plenary lectures presented by Dr. Mathew Campbell and Professor Mark Little (TCD). Dr Mathew Campbell (TCD), opened the meeting by discussing his work on the importance of the blood-brain barrier and the crucial role it plays especially in neurological conditions such as schizophrenia, traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He highlighted the important role that the tight junction protein, claudin-5, plays in regulating the blood-brain barrier integrity. His research group found that targeted suppression of claudin 5 induced psychosis-like behaviour in an inducible claudin-5 knockdown mouse model with these mice displaying characteristic features of schizophrenia.
The Roger Wadsworth competition swiftly followed the keynote lecture from Dr. Campbell. This competition is named in memory of Roger M. Wadsworth, a Professor of Cardiovascular Pharmacology at Strathclyde University, who made huge contributions both scientifically and academically in the field of cardiovascular research where he is held in the highest esteem as a supervisor for his commitment and mentoring of young cardiovascular scientists. Final year PhD students must present their research and the award is given to the student who delivers the most outstanding oral presentation at the meeting along with their achievements during their PhD. This year’s topics covered a diverse range of topics including epigenetic therapy for heart failure; optical imaging for the detection of microcalcification in atherosclerotic plaques; and the role of protein phosphatase 2A in modulating permeability of the blood-brain barrier. Personally, it was an honour to be given the opportunity to present work from my PhD in the Roger Wadsworth competition. My research has demonstrated that administration of the DNA methylation inhibitor, 5-azacytidine, can reduce aberrant cardiac remodelling in the setting of hypertension-induced cardiac injury and improve cardiac function in the naturally aged heart. It is the hope that pharmacological manipulation of epigenetic mechanisms may potentially lead to novel therapeutic strategies for cardiomyopathies where remodelling plays an important role in driving disease with limited effective treatment options. This work was carried out as part of a commercialisation grant funded by Enterprise Ireland.
After a very exciting morning session, it was time for lunch and the conference poster session. All presenters did a fantastic job of conveying a broad range of topics and methodologies to the audience. It was very motivating to see the vast quantity and quality of research that is being carried out by research groups in Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and England. Following lunch, the afternoon session covered a collection of different areas of cardiovascular research from the role of the anti-angiogenic protein FKBPL in cardiac dysfunction and preeclampsia to the role and therapeutic delivery of the counter regulatory renin-angiotensin system in stroke and cardiac hypertrophy.
The afternoon was rounded off with an intriguing talk from Professor Mark Little (TCD), presenting his work on the rare autoimmune disease Anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic antibody (ANCA)-associated vasculitis. Prof Little elaborated through a clinical case study of how there is large variability in the clinical onset observed in ANCA vasculitis. Due to the clinical variability of rare diseases such as ANCA vasculitis, Prof. Little highlighted the critical importance for establishing universal networks to bring together concerted efforts to improve patient care. He drew on recent advancements in the field including the development of a mobile based app for patients with vasculitis known as patientMpower which offers personalised tips on staying well and help with medication adherence and provides a cloud based platform to store clinical data. This will ultimately enhance patient-physician interaction and reduce the clinical variability of ANCA vasculitis as it allows the linkage of relapse events to environmental factors.
The meeting was brought to a close with the prize-giving ceremony delivered by Dr. Susan Currie. The standard of presentations by all competing had been excellent. Difficulty in selecting the winners of each category was a point which Dr. Currie emphasized in her closing speech. To say that I was shocked when my name was announced as the winner of the Roger Wadsworth prize was an understatement. The Roger Wadsworth prize was presented by Professor Wadsworths’ wife, Dr Moira Wadsworth. It was a true honour to receive this prestigious award from Moira and an absolute pleasure to meet her. Her kind words of congratulations were heart-warming and made the achievement that little bit more special.
The SCF Best Oral Presentation prize was awarded to Ms. Karla O’Neil of Queens University Belfast for her captivating talk on the regulatory role of NOX4 in cord-blood derived endothelial colony forming cells to promote post-ischaemic revascularisation. The final prize of the afternoon was the SCF Best Poster Presentation which was awarded to Ms. Eleanor Gill of Queen’s University Belfast for her poster titled “NOX4 NADPH oxidase is a key regulator of endothelial cell function in experimental diabetes. All abstracts of the presentations and posters will be published in the journal Heart, following a recent agreement that will allow the research showcased from this year’s SCF meeting to be shared with the wider scientific community.
I would now like to take the opportunity to thank both the SCF and the Wadsworth family for their continued support of young and driven cardiovascular researchers. Furthermore, I think I speak for everyone in thanking Professor Paul Spiers, Dr. Margaret Lucitt, Dr. Martina Hennessy and Ms. Gillian Casey for arranging such a fantastic event. It was thoroughly entertaining, enlightening, and I very much look forward to next years meeting. SCF2019 meeting will take place in the Scottish Highlands in Inverness, so keep your eyes peeled on www.scf.strath.ac.uk for updates! - Until next year!