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Queen's in pioneering study to see if skin cells can repair diseased hearts

By Victoria O'Hara

Skin cells that can be transformed into blood vessels by experts at Queen's University could help in the global fight against heart disease.

Researchers in Belfast have been awarded a major grant by the British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland (BHF NI) for a new medical investigation.

The £190,000 funding was granted to Dr Andriana Margariti and her team to better understand the process involved when a stem cell taken from a certain type of skin cell is transformed into one that lines blood vessels.

The Belfast team will study the therapeutic potential of the new blood vessel cells to see whether they can help fix the damage that is caused by heart disease.

The process of turning skin cells into stem cells, which can become any other type of cell in the body - including blood vessel cells - was discovered in 2006 by Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka.

The discovery led to Professor Yamanaka being awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2012.

Dr Margariti, lead researcher on the BHF NI-funded study at QUB, said: "Heart and circulatory disease causes a quarter of all deaths in Northern Ireland, or around 3,700 deaths each year - that's an average of 10 people each day.

"When someone has a heart attack, there is a temporary loss of the blood supply to the heart muscle.

"By developing these cells, we hope to help the heart repair and re-establish bloodflow after a heart attack."

The news came as it was revealed that thousands of men from Northern Ireland are to take part in one of the world's largest studies into prostate cancer. The Life After Prostate Cancer Diagnosis survey will also be led by a team at Queen's.

The UK-wide study is the first of its kind and will involve men who have been treated for the disease. The subjects will be asked to share their experiences of treatment and how life has been for them since.

The survey was this month sent out to 2,000 men diagnosed between December 2012 and November 2014.

The Northern Ireland Cancer Registry will analyse the anonymous data, and the results are expected at the end of this year.

Through the study, researchers hope to investigate the underlying health differences between men with prostate cancer and those without it.

In 2014, there were more than 1,100 new cases of prostate cancer in the province. Almost 8,500 men here are currently living with the disease, which kills around 250 a year.

Dr Anna Gavin, director of Queen's University's Cancer Registry, said:"I would strongly encourage all men who have been invited to take part in this study to please do so.

"This is their chance to let us know anonymously how they are, to help steer future treatments, and to provide other men and their doctors with better information about treatment after-effects.

"This will enable those planning services to see what steps can be taken to try and improve the quality of life for men after prostate cancer treatment."

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