Internationally-respected cardiologist appointed Director of the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences
Professor Paulus Kirchhof, who joined the University of Birmingham in 2011 as a Chair in Cardiovascular Medicine, is a consultant cardiologist at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, and an active member of several research consortia and professional organisations, including the European Society of Cardiology. He shares an insight into his career and hopes for the Institute.
What attracted to you to the role of Institute Director?
I have always enjoyed being a member of the Institute; it is a wonderful home to carry out your research and has an atmosphere that is not only collegiate, but fun.
We have the potential to carry out world-leading research in several areas of cardiovascular research, including atrial fibrillation, thrombosis/thrombo-inflammation, and vascular biology and inflammation. I think that we can achieve even more by bringing together the clinical expertise that we have in cardiovascular sciences, and I hope to establish a closer link between the Institute and the cardiology specialties in our major NHS partner trusts.
Where do you see the Institute in five years’ time?
We have good leadership in the College of Medical and Dental Sciences, and I have had very inspiring first interactions with my colleagues on College Board. There are real opportunities to interact not only with our NHS partners, but with the other Institutes in the College and with other Colleges on campus.
The Institute is thriving and on course to keep delivering internationally-respected research. In line with our five-year plan, I am planning to increase the number of principal investigators in the Institute to 35-40, maintain strong links with our NHS partners and harness the multidisciplinary abilities of the Institute to develop mechanisms-based stratifying therapies for patients with chronic cardiovascular conditions. This should enable us to deliver research from molecular mechanisms to patient benefit.
What do you think the future holds for the general field of cardiovascular research?
It is a great time to be a cardiovascular researcher for two reasons. Firstly, across the field we have already demonstrated that we can improve patients’ lives and the longevity of the population. When I finished medical school we thought the big problems of our time appeared as if they had already been solved; we had clean water, vaccinations and antibiotics, and lived until we were 75. But, in the last 20 years, better prevention and treatment of cardiovascular conditions have added about two years to our average life expectancy.
Secondly, there is much to be learned from stratified or precision cardiovascular medicine. One of the strengths of our field in the past, clinically, has been to define big disease like cardiovascular, atrial fibrillation and heart failure, and to test therapies in big clinical trials. With all the new technology, from genomic interrogation of DNA to single cell imaging, we can understand different disease entities better.
We now need to adapt our approaches to prevention and therapy to smaller disease entities, smaller patient populations and new disease taxonomies that align better with disease mechanisms and that are more conducive to mechanisms-based therapy.
What is your drive for getting up in the morning and coming to work?
Science is wonderful, interacting with colleagues is great, and seeing that the research that we do and enjoy translates into a benefit for the patient is very rewarding. These positives carry you through the inevitable setbacks, for example when a grant does not get funded, a paper is rejected or we fail to find an effective treatment for a patient in need.
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