Congratulations to Professor Matthew Bown from the NIHR Leicester BRC who has been named as the British Heart Foundation’s first-ever Chair of Vascular Surgery.
Professor Bown is the BHF Professor of Vascular Surgery at the University of Leicester, and as part of the BRC, he and his team are investigating the causes of abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA), how best to screen for AAA and use screening to improve cardiovascular health, and the best ways to treat people with peripheral arterial disease (PAD).
Professor Bown said: “To be appointed Chair of Vascular Surgery is a major achievement for the vascular surgery unit and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust. This award recognises our position as the leading UK centre for academic vascular surgery and is testament to all the hard work put in by the members of the team.”
“Coupled with the recent promotion of my colleague Professor Thanos Saratzis to a personal chair at the University of Leicester this double success places us at the forefront of vascular research nationally and internationally.”
The genetics behind AAA and its growth
Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs) are balloon-like swellings in the abdominal portion of the aorta – the body’s biggest blood vessel. AAAs can be easily detected with an ultrasound scan and are often found early by screening programmes while they are still small.
The only treatment is a risky surgery, which is offered to patients if their AAA grows too large and is at risk of rupturing. There are no treatments that can prevent an AAA growing to this size. AAA ruptures cause massive internal bleeding. Up to 90 per cent of people with a ruptured AAA die and the condition is responsible for at least 3,000 deaths in the UK each year.
Professor Bown’s research focuses on the genetics behind AAA. He and his team are responsible for discovering most of the genes known to contribute to a greater risk of developing an AAA.
Now, Professor Bown and his team will lead international efforts to identify genetic differences that increase the risk of faster AAA growth. This could pinpoint potential targets for drugs designed to slow or stop AAA growth, reducing the chance that they will rupture.
Effective and efficient screening for circulatory diseases
In the UK, the AAA ultrasound screening programme is offered to all men over 65. The high number of people who take part in screening means it is an excellent opportunity to screen for other conditions too.
Professor Bown and his team are currently testing whether it’s possible to screen for peripheral arterial disease and high blood pressure at the same time as AAA. Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a narrowing of the blood vessels that supply the limbs, usually the legs, resulting is a lack of blood supply to these limbs.
It affects 20% of people over 65, and those who have it are at greater risk of problems like heart attacks and strokes, but it often goes undiagnosed. Professor Bown’s team will investigate whether a simple blood pressure test around the ankle using a specialised machine can improve PAD detection and treatment for both men and women.
They are also using advanced computer modelling and the latest NHS data to assess a targeted AAA screening system, where people at the highest risk of an AAA can be identified and invited for screening. This could pave the way for real-life testing, and possibly a switch to a more cost-effective, tailored programme.
Improving patient risk management in circulatory diseases
Over 12,000 men in the UK have an AAA that is not large enough for the operation to treat them to be worth the risk. During this medical limbo, which usually lasts years, patients attend regular AAA check-ups, but live with the possibility of their AAA bursting and also face a higher risk of developing heart or other circulatory diseases.
Professor Bown and collaborators aim to expand the regular check-ups beyond simply monitoring a patient’s AAA size, by using them as an opportunity to give advice and treatments designed to reduce the unusually high risks these patients face.
PAD patients with symptoms also have a higher risk of heart and circulatory problems. Professor Bown wants to address this by trialling a checklist that patients can use to reduce their risk of experiencing a serious cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke. Early work suggest that this could reduce people’s risk by nearly 30 per cent over ten years.
If you want to receive more information about the study or if you want to take part you can contact the research team by email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 07774 006984.