Bernard Keavney’s highly commended at our Making a Difference Awards

Thu, 05 Aug 2021 12:38:00 BST

Back in May Bernard Keavney was highly commended at our 2021 Making a Difference Awards for his research which is helping fight cardiovascular disease in the African population.

He spoke about this fantastic achievement:

“We are very proud to have won a Highly Commended award, particularly among such a strong field of projects showing such high levels of commitment and impact. The University’s vision in making Social Responsibility one of its core goals is absolutely vindicated by the great work colleagues are doing across all Faculties. Regarding our own work, my colleagues and I are hoping to make a difference to patients with cardiovascular disease in Africa across the lifecourse – from children affected with congenital or rheumatic heart disease, to adults at risk of high blood pressure and heart attacks. I would like to thank all my wonderful project partners in Africa for the opportunity to work with them, and my outstanding UOM colleagues who have contributed so much to our efforts.”

The research, which was shortlisted for a Newton Prize, strives to understand cardiovascular disease in an understudied population. While the risk of cardiovascular disease is increasing there are few studies conducted in Africans, thus limiting future health care options. By discovering novel biomarkers to better identify elevated cardiovascular risk and developing tools to facilitate research in understudied diseases, Professor Keavney and his collaborators are combatting this growing problem.

Environmental factors can alter gene expression (epigenetics) which can affect disease susceptibility and progression. As most epigenetic data is from Europeans it was unknown if it could be applied to other populations. By forming effective partnerships with South Africa, Bernard and his research team found they could use gene methylation markers to identify people with an elevated risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease more precisely than using current assays. Their work has yielded improved biomarkers but also highlighted the requirement for ethnically diverse data.

Following successful collaborations with the University of Cape Town (UCT), the team has yielded two papers in the last year (first authors based at UCT) which includes the identification of a novel cardiomyopathy gene. After identifying congenital heart disease as a neglected area of research they have generated a database, used clinically in Sub-Saharan Africa, to facilitate this area of research. The team have also contributed to capacity building and research at UCT through student exchange and technological transfer. This has involved setting up the first Zebrafish research facility on the African continent; details of which have been requested by the Newton fund to use as a case study for successful technology transfer.

  • To find out more about the research project, click here.
  • See our full list of 2021 Making a Difference winners and highly commended.