500.000 euro grant for translational cardiology research

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UMCG researchers Martijn Hoes and Wouter Meijers have both been awarded a 250.000 euro grant from the Dutch Heart Foundation for their upcoming research. They will both start new research to different types of heart disease.

Heart failure during or directly after pregnancy

With his Dekkerbeurs Martijn will study the disease Peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM), a form of heart failure that can be fatal. ‘Female heart patients can feel misunderstood of even neglected. With this research I hope to achieve a better understanding for female heart patients, patients with related diseases and take the next step in finding better treatment for PPCM and related diseases.

Researching the heart without invasive surgery 

The research from Hoes makes it possible to study the heart without invasive surgery. Due to ethical concerns, pregnant women cannot be studied in detail. Therefor he will study PPCM pathogenesis in matured and vascularises cardiac tissues generated with iPSC derived cells from the patients and healthy control. Serum will be collected from healthy women during their pregnancy and in the postpartum nursing period. These serums will be supplemented to the cardiac tissues to elicit a response to the respective circulatory factors in each type of serum.

‘I expect that pregnancy hormones will induce an aberrant metabolic response in PPCM patient-derived tissues leading to impaired contractility. In doing so, I aim to specifically target PPCM-associated defects without disrupting broad hormone function as this is not suited for application in pregnant or nursing patients.’

Heart damage due to immunotherapy

Wouter Meijers received the Dekkersbeurs for his research on heart damage and immune therapy. Heart-, vascular disease and cancer are major medical problems in the western world. In these diseases the immune system has an important role. Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI) revolutionised the cancer field. They take the brakes of T-cells, which are able to better kill cancer cells. This led to a significant improvement of survival. However, ICI therapy can lead to a life treating cardiac disease – myocarditis with a death rate of 50 percent. Myocarditis is most common in women. Wouter Meijers is going to investigate who is at risk, and how to better treat these patients. 

The role of the immune system and hormones in heart damage

Meijers will research how immunotherapy leads to heart damage and if it is possible to prevent this from happening. He focuses on the role of (female) hormones. It happens frequently that patient ongoing immunotherapy endure myocardial infarction. Meijers wants to find out if it is better to either continue or withdraw active immune therapy in patients that endure a myocardial infarction. Furthermore, in this research he hopes to clarify the role of immune checkpoints in cardiac injury and elucidate why females might be at higher risk for immune mediated cardiac disease. 
“I hope to contribute to the realisation of new treatment to prevent heart damage and find out if immunotherapy can be a treatment option for heart patients.” In the upcoming three years Meijers will conduct his research.