Hundreds of pulmonary hypertension (PH) patients in Sheffield are taking part in a world-leading research programme aimed at bringing about new treatments for the disease. The Pulmonary Hypertension Research Biobank is a growing store of blood products which are being analysed by scientists to better understand the basic biological workings underlying the development of PH.
Dr Allan Lawrie, who leads the talented team behind the research, believes it will lead to breakthroughs in diagnosis and treatment in the future as tools the scientists use for analysis become ever more sophisticated.
The collection, held at the University of Sheffield Medical School and the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, has collected samples from 400 patients taken at a diagnostic right heart catheter when PH is suspected. Additional samples are then taken following the commencement of targeted therapies. The Biobank has been running since June 2009 and gathers expensive ‘deep phenotype’ data to match each blood sample.
The Biobank is run as a joint venture between the University’s Department of Cardiovascular Science and the Pulmonary Vascular Disease Unit at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital – the UK’s largest PH centre. Patient recruitment and blood sampling is performed by study-specific nurses housed within the National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Facility.
Tens of thousands of pieces of clinical data have been accrued which are then merged with ‘multi-omic’ data to identify patterns or signatures that may help identify patients at risk; help diagnosis and highlight patterns that may provide prognostic information. In identifying these patterns, it is hoped that they will also be able to identify new targets for drugs. There has already been significant progress looking at the role of a specific protein, with translational funding (MRC DPFS) to generate a novel antibody treatment.
The age of patients with pulmonary hypertension ranges from early 20s to 70s and, as a regional specialist centre, Sheffield treats patients living as far afield as Blackburn, Liverpool, Birmingham and North Wales. Blood taken from those patients who do not go on to be diagnosed with PH also provides valuable information. Allan said:
“The resource is shared with other scientists nationally and internationally in the drive to develop treatments that can reverse PH rather than solely fighting symptoms. Because lung tissue from transplants has become increasingly rare, we are using blood as a model for what is happening in the lungs. We have built up a huge resource by approaching the Biobank in a systematic way; maximising the strong position of UK centres to access the ‘treatment naïve’ patients which allows us to study what current treatments are doing and how we can improve this.
“Because PH is such a rare and diverse disease, we need to keep adding to the Biobank. We are hugely grateful to the many patients who are giving us their blood for research and want them to know the importance of it. We cannot say when it will be but there is no doubt there will be improved treatments coming through from this research.”
This programme, which involves a team of research nurses, scientists, data coordinators and students, costs in the region of £75,000 a year to run. Initially the Biobank was funded through a National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Unit. Since 2012 costs have been met by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) from a study researching novel biomarkers and an application is currently under review to try and secure funding for the next five years.
In September, Allan and 19 other members of staff and alumni will be walking 286 miles in 15 days down the full Pennine Way to raise money for research into Pulmonary Hypertension.
More information can be found at www.shef.ac.uk/big-walk
How can I help?
Please support PH research at Sheffield and our walkers by making a donation towards the Big Walk: https://www.justgiving.com/thebigwalk2015
To make a donation to Allan Lawrie visit: JustGiving.com/Allan-Lawrie