UCD researcher's findings may lead to therapeutic targets for heart diseases associated with obstructive sleep apnoea

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Dr Silke Ryan, a University College Dublin (UCD) medical researcher, has delivered the flagship Cournand lecture at European Respiratory Society’s (ERS) 2015 international congress. The congress, the largest annual respiratory meeting in the world, took place earlier this week in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and was attended by over 20,000 people.

During her lecture Dr Ryan outlined how her research findings may lead to the development of therapeutic targets for heart diseases associated with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

Dr Ryan is a Consultant in Respiratory and Sleep Medicine at St. Vincent’s University Hospital and a Health Research Board-funded research fellow in the UCD School of Medicine at the UCD Conway Institute.

OSA is a common disease affecting about 14% of middle-aged men and 5% of middle-aged women. It is characterised by frequent breathing pauses during sleep leading to sudden drops in the blood oxygen level resulting in subconscious awakenings in order to restore the oxygen level. In severe cases these events can occur several hundred times during the night.

Her research has resulted in a better understanding of the mechanisms associated with the development of various cardiovascular complications, such as high blood pressure, heart attacks or stroke, in obstructive sleep apnoea.

Speaking after her lecture Dr Silke Ryan said, “As I outlined during the Cournand Lecture my research has identified that frequent oxygen fluctuations (intermittent hypoxia) preferentially activate inflammatory pathways known to promote atherosclerosis or hardening and narrowing of the arteries, and these events are likely to be key mechanisms of cardiovascular disease processes in OSA.”

She added, “Further understanding of these mechanisms will hopefully lead to the identification of therapeutic targets for heart diseases associated with OSA and for other disorders associated with intermittent hypoxia.”

Dr Ryan’s lecture was entitled Inflammatory Pathway Activation by Intermittent Hypoxia in Obstructive Sleep Apnoea.

Dr Ryan was the first researcher from Ireland to be honoured by the Society to deliver the prestigious Cournand lecture at its international congress in its 25-year history.

Professor Orla Feely, Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact, UCD, said, “Dr Ryan’s selection by the European Respiratory Society to deliver the Cournand Lecture, the first ever selection of a researcher from Ireland, was based upon the impact of her world class and highly-cited research performed at UCD and St. Vincent’s University Hospital.”

She added, “Significant insights into the mechanisms underpinning cardiovascular diseases associated with obstructive sleep apnoea have emerged from her research to date and these insights may lead to the development of therapies to treat and improve the lives of people with these diseases.”

Dr Ryan’s research has been published in high-impact journals such as Circulation, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, and Thorax, and is widely cited.

The European Respiratory Society is a leading international organisation bringing together scientists and healthcare professionals to promote lung health and combat lung disease.

The name of the keynote lecture, delivered at the ERS’s international congress, rotates every three years between the Cournand, Sadoul or Yernault lecture.

The Cournand lecture commemorates a distinguished French scientist (André Frédéric Cournand) who worked for much of his life in the United States and was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology in 1956 for his pioneering work on the in-vivo investigation of the circulation.

Professor Stephen Holgate, ERS Science Council Chair, said, “Each year at our international congress we recognise leaders in the field of respiratory medicine for their achievements with a number of awards, including the award of delivering the congress’ keynote lecture. We were delighted that this year’s Cournand lecture, which is reserved for successful young investigators, was delivered by University College Dublin researcher Dr Silke Ryan in recognition of the impact of her scientific contributions to respiratory medicine. As the first recipient of this award in 1992, I fully understand what a great achievement this is for Dr Ryan.”

Dr Silke Ryan concluded, “Delivering the European Respiratory Society’s Cournand Lecture is a tremendous honour and will now further motivate me to continue my respiratory research in this exciting field of sleep medicine. I would like to thank my mentors and colleagues from University College Dublin and St. Vincent’s University Hospital, especially Professor Cormac Taylor and Professor Walter McNicholas, for without their strong support this award would not have been possible.”

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