Says Professor Pilowsky: “What I’m interested in is what they call Airways, Breathing and Circulation: it’s the first thing that you learn at medical school. And yet, it’s still one of the most poorly-understood areas of cardiovascular control.”
Professor Pilowsky’s work straddles both basic and medical research – his group is investigating how the body controls blood flow and breathing under normal conditions, and how this system malfunctions in diseases like heart failure, or essential hypertension (high blood pressure with no clear cause).
The sympathetic nervous system is one of two main regulators of breathing and blood flow: this body-wide control network synchronises the actions of the organs, the muscles, and the blood vessels, among other targets. Professor Pilowsky describes the processes that this system controls: “The sympathetic nervous system looks after things like how constricted your blood vessels are; how much adrenaline and noradrenaline is released from your adrenal glands; and how fast and how strongly your heart beats.”
The sympathetic nervous system has a huge impact on the heart and circulation, so it’s critical to understand the ways in which this works. With so many different effects on your circulation, it’s unsurprising that disorders of this system are linked to a number of diseases including hypertension, epilepsy, heart failure, and sleep apnoea. “People with intermittent sleep apnoea commonly develop hypertension; hypertension that is associated with an increase in sympathetic nerve activity,” says Professor Pilowsky.
Professor Pilowsky is accompanied by two postdoctoral fellows, Dr Melissa Farnham and Dr Suja Mohammed, and a handful of PhD candidates. He’s a valuable addition to The Heart Research Institute’s research program, and his expertise will encourage new collaborations and research projects within The Heart Research Institute. We’re thrilled to bring him on board, and we look forward to telling you more about his research soon.