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Grants for cardiovascular research

The Dutch Heart Foundation has awarded Dekker research grants to thirteen talented researchers. Two of these grants went to the Erasmus MC researchers Christophe Teuwen and Dr. Mirjam Kool.

Christophe TeuwenIt was the 30th time that the Dekker grants were awarded. These grants serve to give an incentive to both the careers of researchers and to cardiovascular research in the Netherlands.

Bachmann's bundle
Christophe Teuwen (pictured right) received a Dekker grant for a new technique making it possible to study  Bachmann's bundle. Until recently it was not possible to study this relatively unknown part of the heart. Teuwen will use the grant, amounting to more than €110,000, to determine how conduction disorders in this bundle can cause atrial fibrillation.

About 300,000 people in the Netherlands suffer from atrial fibrillation. This can lead to blood clot formation, and these blood clots may then lodge in the brain and cause a stroke. Despite treatment, the arrhythmia often recurs, particularly in women.

The heart has a network that sends electrical signals through the heart. This enables the atria and ventricles of the heart to contract rhythmically. Bachmann's bundle is part of this network. "Because this bundle cannot be reached by the catheters currently available to cardiologists examining arrhythmias in the heart, very limited research has been possible on Bachmann's bundle. But this bundle conducts electrical signals to the atria, and may therefore play an important role in atrial fibrillation",  explains Teuwen.

"We now have a new technique with which we can measure, during open heart surgery, the electrical signals that pass through Bachmann's bundle to the atria", says Teuwen.  He is going to document the flow of the electrical signals to the atria in people who undergo open heart surgery. He will examine this in people with and without atrial fibrillation so as to determine where disorders that could lead to atrial fibrillation occur. See his research.

hart-bloedvatvernauwingPulmonary arterial hypertension
Dr. Mirjam Kool will use her Dekker grant, amounting to more than €400,000, to study the immune cells of patients with an incurable heart and lung disease. She hopes that these cells can help to slow down the incurable disease. The blood vessels that supply the lungs of the patients with the disease being examined by Kool, namely PAH (pulmonary arterial hypertension), show narrowing. "These patients are now mainly given drugs that dilate the pulmonary arteries", she says, "The medication reduces tightness in the chest, but it does not address the cause, nor cure the patients."
PAH is an increase of blood pressure in the pulmonary artery. This makes it difficult for the heart to pump enough blood to the lungs, and this increases the pressure in the right ventricle. This makes it increasingly difficult for the heart to function properly and the patient becomes more and more short of breath. Many eventually die as a result of the disease. 

Dendritic cells
Kool knows from previous studies that certain immune cells look different in PAH patients. "These are the dendritic cells. They are the sentinels of our immune system. Generals send their army to fight the enemy, and dendritic cells send other immune cells to fight off dangerous invaders, such as bacteria." Kool suspects that these 'generals'  are too active in PAH patients, so that immune cells damage blood vessels. Kool is trying to determine how this works by examining, among others, the blood of about 50 PAH patients.

Date published: 18 January 2017.

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