At the heart of the matter

Thoughts from a PKD Researcher – Jackie Phillips, Macquarie University

How did I get here? 

My introduction to PKD was through high blood pressure, my research area, and a chance discussion with a veterinary colleague who mentioned they had a strain of animals with what looked like PKD. I already knew kidney disease was linked to high blood pressure and so began my journey in 2005.

Fast forward 10 years and I have published 20 articles about PKD ranging from identifying a genetic mutation, anaemia, abnormal heart function, brain wiring to novel treatments for hypertension. Along the way I have met amazing researchers trying to work out how the gene mutations result in disease through to clinicians who’ve helped me understand treatment priorities.

Now I’m learning about patients and families with PKD, each of who have inspired me through their personal journeys. Reading about and speaking to people who live with PKD is very humbling. It’s also a powerful motivator for me to continue what I do in the laboratory.

What I have learnt and where to from here?

During the course of my research, I’ve learnt that PKD is an incredibly complex disease. One of the most important things it has taught me is that many sufferers have cardiovascular complications including high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. This is where I think our research can make a difference.

My goal is to improve the health of people with PKD and their day-to-day quality of life. My research aims to improve the function of the heart, blood vessels and believe it or not, the brain as it controls the heart and blood vessels using reflex responses. We now have studies showing the brain loses this capacity as kidney disease progresses placing PKD patients at increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Next we want to work out where in the pathway the control of blood pressure and the heart have gone wrong, and if this is because of the PKD mutation or because of the kidney disease and the increased level of toxins like urea in the blood stream.

I work with a fantastic and dedicated team of fellow scientists and students. While the progress may be slow – that’s the nature of research – we are always moving forward.

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