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The British Heart Foundation were charity of the year for the 2022 TCS London Marathon. Around 800 BHF London Marathon runners, including former De Val lab researcher Dr Alice Preston, have raised nearly £2 million, and rising, for BHF-funded science that could lead to improved new treatments for heart failure. Research led by Associate Professor Sarah De Val and Dr Joaquim Vieira are two of eight projects to receive funding from these proceeds.

So far, BHF London Marathon runners have raised nearly £2 million and rising. The money will go towards cutting-edge research into regenerative medicine, offering much-needed hope for the almost one million people living with heart failure in the UK. Among those running was Dr Alice Preston, formerly a postdoctoral researcher in the De Val Lab and now working as a Senior Scientist at Biotech company Ochre Bio, who ran a fantastic time of 3 hours 50 minutes. Her fundraising page - Alice's London Marathon 2022 page - is still open for donations.

Dr Preston had previously been working with Associate Professor Sarah De Val on the pathways regulating the formation and differentiation of vein and lymphatic vessel in both development, and after a heart attack or other tissue damage. Not only are venous and lymphatic endothelial cells crucial for the correct function of the circulatory system, they can also be used as building blocks for other types of vessels. In particular, the De Val lab focuses on the study of enhancers, the on off switches of genes, in order to identify which proteins activate the correct pattern of blood and lymphatic vessel growth during tissue repair. Having identified a crucial pathway repressed in the adult heart after injury, the research team is focused on ways to encourage the adult heart to reactivate this pathway and consequently grow more of the right type of new vessels to repair itself after injury.

The second IDRM project to be funded by the London Marathon proceeds is led by Dr Joaquim Vieira. The Vieira lab studies cells of the epicardium, the outer layer of the heart, which are vital to normal heart development, including the growth and maturation of coronary blood vessels, the myocardial (heart muscle) layer and cardiac valves. More specifically, his team investigates how epicardial cells become activated and invade the heart’s myocardial layer in a process called the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). The formation of coronary blood vessels and cardiac muscle are dependent on EMT taking place. If we can understand how epicardial cells contribute to these processes, we can better understand what goes wrong, not only in adult heart disease, but also in congenital heart disease in children.

Fundraising for the London Marathon is ongoing. Visit the BHF TCS London Marathon website for more details. In particular, you can support the ‘Go Sanjay!’ campaign. Professor Sanjay Sinha from the University of Cambridge is leading the ground-breaking research behind the Heart Healing Patch, and has raised more than £71,000 so far. Sponsor Sanjay here

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