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UC research into potential curing cardiovascular disease

UC student research into potential curing or slowing down of cardiovascular disease

November 6, 2012

A University of Canterbury student is researching key cell biology processes that may be useful in curing or slowing down the development of many diseases such as strokes and heart attacks.

Nelson’s Ben Walters is at the end of his fourth year of UC study working toward a Master of Science in Biochemistry. His area of research is on cardiovascular disease which is a leading cause of mortality in most developed countries, largely due to the ageing population and sedentary lifestyles.

In New Zealand heart attacks and strokes result are responsible for 40 percent of annual deaths, affecting around 10,000 people. Cardiovascular disease involves the build-up of fatty materials such as cholesterol in the cells within the arterial walls in a process known as atherosclerosis.

Fat deposition within the cells begins in teenage years and after enough time, blood circulation can be impaired through artery stiffening and plaque formation. These plaques can eventually rupture and form blood clots that deprive tissues of oxygen and other nutrients.

Depending on the location of clot formation, the resulting tissue damage can be in the form of a heart attack or stroke.

``My project is looking at how cells involved in cardiovascular disease regulate production of an antioxidant called 7,8-dihydroneopterin. Antioxidants are protective molecules that protect cells against oxidative stress, a process involved in cardiovascular as well as many other diseases, ‘’ Walters said today.

``An increased understanding of how cells produce such molecules many one day lead to therapeutic drugs to modulate antioxidant production. Such interventional strategies may be useful in curing or slowing down the development of many diseases.

``Biochemistry and medical research are extraordinarily fields to be involved in. Everything feels incredibly applicable, as the very processes we learn about are occurring inside ourselves and all other life on the planet.

``It is also very rewarding to know that the relatively small contribution that I am making to the vast scientific literature, may one day lead to the development of medicines which could save and improve the quality of millions of lives around the world.

``The University of Canterbury has been a great place to study, where world leading facilities/research laboratories and excellent teaching staff means anyone with the inclination can be inspired and excel in their field of interest.

``Who would want to go all the way to Dunedin when you can be at the forefront of medical research right here in Canterbury? My project follows on from four years of directed learning and will take me between 12 and 18 months to finish.’’

Walters is carrying out his research under the supervision of Associate Profession Steven Gieseg whose group has shown how key antioxidants regulate white blood cells involved in heart disease.

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