Interview with Dr Stacy Robertson: investigating acute coronary syndromes

Research Updates
Dr Stacy Roberton, is a Marcus Blackmore Fellow at the Heart Research Institute. Here she speaks to Franklin Women about her latest research with colchicine, an inexpensive drug usually used to treat gout.

The study: Martínez GJ, Robertson S, Barraclough J, Xia Q, Mallat Z, Bursill C, Celermajer DS, Patel S. Colchicine acutely suppresses local cardiac production of inflammatory cytokines in patients with an acute coronary syndrome. J Am Heart Assoc. 2015;4:e00212810.1161/JAHA.115.002128

What were the aims of this research?

The study aimed to investigate inflammasome activation in the coronary circulation of patients with acute coronary syndromes, compared to stable artery disease or those with no artery disease. Then we wanted to test if we could reduce inflammation with colchicine, an inexpensive drug normally used to treat gout patients.

What are the top 3 take home findings of your research?

1. Levels of key inflammatory cytokines (IL- 18, IL-1β and IL-6) are increased in the intracardiac circulation in acute coronary syndromes patients.

2. Measuring peripheral venous levels is not suitable to accurately detect rises in local production of cytokines.

3. Acute treatment with colchicine can significantly reduce levels of inflammatory markers.

How does this research contribute to the field?

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest colchicine may provide additional cardiovascular benefits on top of current therapy. Our study identifies, for the first time, a positive outcome in acute coronary syndromes, and together with a follow-up study (currently in review for publication) we have shown that this is due to colchicine inhibiting components of the inflammasome.

Who are your collaborators and how did your work relationship come about?

The main collaborators based at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital are Dr Sanjay Patel and Prof David Celermajer, who are also clinical Group Leaders at the Heart Research Institute. Dr Martinez is a cardiologist who came to Sydney to complete a Masters with Dr Patel. That’s how this intercontinental collaboration was born, and it’s opened up many new opportunities for projects, collaborations with international research groups and, of course, more potential funding pools!

What is your current role and organisation and how long have you been there for?

I moved to the Heart Research Institute in Sydney three years ago. I am the Marcus Blackmore Research Fellow, which is generously funded by charity donations. It’s been an excellent opportunity to learn new skills and form new collaborations. My original funding period of two years was extended for another two, however I do hope to eventually return to the UK to continue with my new skills and collaborations there.

What new skills or projects are you currently working on?

I am also investigating the role of circulating extracellular particles in atherosclerosis and hypertension. Microparticles and exosomes, the two main classes, are released from cells and contain microRNAs. I am interested in how the number of particles and their content change in disease. This is important as microRNAs can be delivered to other cell types and may potentiate pathogenesis. Additionally, by characterising the circulating markers we could identify new biomarkers leading to improved diagnosis.

Who is a woman that inspires you?

Jessica Ennis-Hill, current Olympic and World Champion heptathlete. Her achievements, attitude and morals are incredible and there are aspects of her career that any scientist can relate to. Firstly, she has to perform in seven different track and field events comparable to the numerous skills that a scientist needs to be expert in. Secondly, she had to change her take-off leg for the long-jump following an injury. Overcoming adversity and being able to adapt is something most scientists have encountered. Thirdly, she is a fantastic mentor, recently consoling and advising a junior athlete during an event in which they were both competing. Finally, Jessica recently took time off to have her first baby, then came back to win Gold at the World Championships. Managing to remain at the top of your career and to start a family is highly admirable.

What food have you eaten too much of in your life?

Some people think any amount of haggis is too much, but I love it!

This interview was published in Franklin Women's November Newsletter. Franklin Women is a community of women working in health and medical research related careers.