Areas of expertise: Cardiac ageing; arrhythmias; cardiovascular responses to exercise; the sinoatrial node; control of heart rate; blended learning.
My group’s research is directed towards understanding how the heart adapts to changing stresses to ensure continued healthy function. Of particular interest are the stresses of exercise and ageing.
Failure of the heart to adapt leads to cardiac insufficiency whereas undesirable adaptations cause increased susceptibility to arrhythmias and sudden death. By studying cardiac function at the global, cellular and sub-cellular levels we hope to develop an understanding of how intrinsic cardiac responses are controlled and may be manipulated.
One key aspect of our research is directed at the initiation of heart beat. What makes the heart beat spontaneously? How does the pacemaker of the heart adapt? Why in old age does the normal heart's pacemaker begin to fail? By measuring cardiac electrical activity in people, animal models and cellular models we identify the key ionic currents and controlling processes that allow the heart to spontaneously beat and that modify this beating rate. So far we have identified key changes in connections between cells and ionic currents that deteriorate with old age predisposing to problems. Interestingly some of these changes may also occur with exercise leading to a lower heart rate but also potentially a predisposition to problems...
A further key issue we investigate is the multiple effects of ageing on cardiac performance. The aged heart is more susceptible to arrhythmias, shows reduced capacity for adaptation to common stresses such as exercise, and shows reduced tolerance to damaging insults such as a myocardial infarction. Research performed in conjunction with Dr Sandra Jones at the University of Hull as well as here in Leeds has created age-dependent profiles of cardiac function and adaptation allowing us to model cardiac ageing and identify key changes which eventually form the background for cardiac problems in the elderly.
I also have interests in the acute and long-term remodelling of the heart by exercise training. Athlete's heart is a designation used to refer to the heart in trained individuals. With exercise training hypertrophy (growth) of the heart occurs and this is key to improving peak cardiac performance but along with this can come changes in cardiac electrical function and in rare cases this can lead to arrhythmias and the risk of sudden death. I'm interested in reliable markers of pathological changes vs. healthy adaptations along with the specific time-courses and triggers for such adaptation. Understanding these will hopefully allow us to improve identification of individuals at risk of sudden death.
I'm a member of the multidisciplinary cardiovascular research centre, which is a network of individuals interested in bringing a very broad range of skills to bear on cardiovascular health and this helps support my work.