In the sumptuous main hall of the Wills Memorial Building, Bristol University, almost 500 people – mostly laypersons with a percentage of international scientists and researchers – attended yesterday, Sept. 18, the public lecture “Who nearly killed Sir Ranulph Fiennes?”. The lecture was organized by the Bristol Heart Institute in collaboration with the Bristol University, and took place during the joint meetings of the European Vascular Genomics Network (EVGN, www.evgn.org), and the 4th European Meeting on Vascular Biology and Medicine (EMVBM). An event that gathered more than 400 experts, among cardiologists and diabetes researchers, hematologists, thrombosis scientists, gene therapists and oncologists.
Placing himself in the role of the witty investigator Hercule Poirot, Professor Andrew Newby, President of the European Vascular Biology Organization (EVBO) and British Heart Foundation Professor of Vascular Cell Biology at Bristol University’s Bristol Heart Institute, led the audience through arteries and veins, along a fantastic journey inside a human organism in the process of developing coronary artery disease. He interrogated likely culprits and, eventually, got to the solution of the case.
“People underestimate the role that the environment or life-style factors play in the development of coronary artery disease” commented Professor Newby who is also EVGN co-Director. “The purpose of this lecture was to show them the real damage caused by this disease. Unfortunately, once altered, some of the biochemical pathways that keep our organism alive and healthy are hardly ever restorable. Hence the importance of prevention and of public awareness”.
Beginning his journey with the description of the early signs of coronary disease, Professor Newby opened a number of more technical windows on the actors on the stage. He dissected the structure of atherosclerotic plaques and highlighted the role of monocytes and macrophages in the dramatic changes that occur inside the blood vessels microenvironment. All the take-home messages were clear-cut and the whole presentation hit the target.
“We really need events like this one” pointed out Professor Gianni Angelini, Chairman of the Bristol Heart Institute, founded in 1995, that soon become an international centre of excellence for carrying out interdisciplinary cardiovascular research able to bridge the void between clinical and basic science. “Untile recently there were little contacts between BHI and the public opinion. Then we realized the importance of establishing a solid dialogue with the population, aimed at keeping people informed on our activities and at receiving individual feedbacks on their health. Therefore, two years ago we decided to organize public lectures on a regular basis”. The contacts between the BHI and the population are not mere words: four times a year, infact, all the patients treated at the BHI receive a Newsletter that keeps them up to date on the most recent progress in the field. “We also send the patients a questionnare – explains Professor Angelini – asking them to inform us on their health status, and their availability to be enrolled in future trials”.
With 230 scientists, over 1000 peer-reviewed papers since 2000 and research fundings of 56 million Pounds coming from 160 separate grants, the Bristol Heart Institute has become “… an umbrella that gathers the major clinical Institutions and research groups, to strenghten the link between basic research and clinical applications”.
Why mentioning Sir Ranulph Fiennes? “Because he is a symbol of hope and personal involvement” said Professor Andrew Newby. “Sir Ranulph Fiennes, "The world's greatest living explorer" according to the Guinness book of records, agreed to become patron of the Bristol Heart Institute in 2005. In 2003, he underwent emergency heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary when he suffered a heart attack just before boarding a plane at Bristol airport. 3 months after his double-bypass operation he ran 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days, to raise money for the British Heart Foundation (for which he is also an ambassador)”.
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