Sex-specific differences focus of new DCM study

An exciting new research project at Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals aims to study the sex-specific differences found in male and female patients with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), thanks to funding from the Medical Research Council (UK).

DCM is a disease of the heart muscle which makes the muscle walls become stretched and thin. The thinner walls are weakened which means the heart isn’t able to contract properly to pump blood around the body. This can lead to a greater risk of heart failure, where the heart fails to pump enough blood around the body at the right pressure.

The condition can be caused by several factors including, inheriting a mutated gene that makes you more susceptible to developing the disease, an unhealthy lifestyle, viral infections, and pregnancy.

However, for many people, the cause is unknown.

The research will be led by Dr Upasana Tayal, cardiology consultant in inherited cardiac conditions, who has been awarded a prestigious MRC Clinician Scientist Fellowship to determine how DCM affects women and men differently across their lifespan, with the aim of improving diagnosis, treatment and the course of the condition for all patients with DCM.

Dr Tayal’s study will focus on the unique life experiences of women linked to hormonal changes, such as pregnancy and menopause. She also aims to develop a risk prediction model which works for women, as current guidelines are based on studies that mostly recruited men and cut off points for certain factors are likely to differ between the sexes.

The significant differences found in the overall size and function of male and female hearts will also be a focus of the study. From Dr Tayal’s early data, it appears as though female patients have a worse outcome despite a better heart function.  

Dr Tayal will also be studying the genetics of patients with DCM. She said:

“Thanks to the incredible tissue bank at Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals I will also be looking at how the heart genes are switched on and off in males and females with DCM to help understand the differences in male and female hearts.”

Dr Tayal stressed the importance of this research:

“Right now, despite clear differences in biology, we treat men and women with heart disease exactly the same. This research will look at whether that’s the correct strategy. We may in fact need sex specific treatment recommendations and certain groups of women such as peri or post-menopausal women may be at higher risk. I’m super excited about this fellowship because of the impact this research will have.”

The research will be conducted in collaboration with Imperial College London.

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