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Justin and Katja
Professor Justin Benesch and Dr Katja Gehmlich

Dr Katja Gehmlich, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, University of  Birmingham, and Justin Benesch, Professor of Biophysical Chemistry, University of Oxford, have been jointly awarded a three-year research grant from the Medical Research Council to understand how cardiac mechano-sensing works to help develop therapies for heart failure.

During each contraction of the heart, the regions experience different levels of mechanical strain, so heart cells must constantly sense and respond to this strain. They do so through a process known as mechanosignalling, where specialised proteins monitor changes in the mechanical forces acting on cells, and then convert them into chemical signals that trigger other important responses in the body. 

Mechanosignalling is an essential function in healthy hearts, and it may be impaired in cardiac conditions, such as heart failure, where the heart becomes less able to pump the blood needed by the body. Heart failure is a significant and growing problem. It affects millions of people globally including over 920,000 people in the UK, and costs over $100bn worldwide. Understanding the details of how mechanosignalling works in the heart, and what happens when it malfunctions in heart failure and other heart conditions, is important. It can help improve how to manage these conditions and open up new areas to explore for possible treatments.

The project, jointly led by Dr Gehmlich and Professor Benesch and their research groups, will combine their respective strengths in molecular work and cellular and in vivo models, and be supported by a network of national and international collaborators, many of whom are in Europe. This interdisciplinary approach will allow the research groups to get a complete understanding of mechanosignalling.


In response to receiving the award, Dr Gehmlich said: “I am excited to work with a truly interdisciplinary team of experts on the question of how sensing of mechanical stress works in the heart. Making use of the great expertise of the research teams, we will be able to address this question from atomic level to whole organ level. Our research will help to understand how defects in mechanical stress signalling lead to cardiac diseases, such as heart failure, and pave the way for developing new targeted therapies."

Figure 1. Induced pluripotent stem cell drived cardiomyocyte will be one of the research tools used in the project