Maintaining healthy heart function is not as easy as going for a jog each day for those suffering with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). To slow damage to their heart, patients need to do all that they can, and exercise can potentially improve their quality of life.

However, many patients have a higher chance of suffering the consequences of overexertion due to the demands of pumping blood into stiffened, large arteries and narrow small arteries, making it hard to decide on how much exercise a patient should do.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison aim to clear up this uncertainty by attempting to quantify the exact impact of exercise on individuals with PAH.

Associate professor of biomedical engineering Naomi Chesler and team have been awarded a four year grant of $2.5 million by the National Institutes of Health. This will allow them to research the relationships between small artery narrowing, large artery stiffening and their interactions with the right side of the heart in those with PAH.

Chesler explains:

“Most patients with pulmonary hypertension die from right heart failure, so even though the disease may be initiated in the small arteries of the lung, the impact on heart function is what’s really critical.”

The team aim to find identifiers that can help doctors decide which PAH patients would benefit and which would be harmed by physical exercise.

Chesler said:

“We’re trying to differentiate those people who have sufficiently good interactions between the heart and the lungs from those where the heart and lungs are not working well together.”

The investigation also adds upon Chesler’s previous work from funded by an NIH grant in which she studied how the presence of excess collagen, a fibrous protein found in connective tissues throughout the body, may contribute to PAH.

Chesler said:

“We’re dovetailing our previous work on the role of collagen in large artery stiffening with new work on the impact of large artery stiffening on heart function. An important patient population in our new study is those with a collagen disorder.”

The researchers will be especially interested in their findings regarding patients with scleroderma, also known systemic sclerosis (Ssc), a disease which is caused by excess collagen accumulation throughout the body, including blood vessels. There are not many effective treatment options available for patients with Ssc-related PAH, but by concentrating on these patients in the investigation their best treatment options might be identified.

Written by Grace Rattue