Date: 1st of August till the 31st of August 2013
Laboratory visited: Excellence Cluster CardioPulmonary System (ECCPS) in Giessen, Germany
Director: Prof. Ralph Schermuly, FPVRI
Overview of visit, general contribution and techniques learnt
My PhD project investigates the cardioprotective effects of a natural product called melatonin in rat model of monocrotaline induced pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). This model develops PAH as an underlying cause which leads to cardiac hypertrophy. My PhD assesses the effects of melatonin on cardiac hypertrophy, but as melatonin may reverse/ improve the underlying PAH it will also reverse the cardiac hypertrophy, leaving no opportunity for me to study the molecular processes of this hypertrophic process. For this reason, I will need to test melatonin in a model that does in fact develop cardiac hypertrophy without PAH. Such a model is the rat model of pulmonary artery banding during which these animals develop pressure overload induced cardiac hypertrophy, or more specifically, right ventricular hypertrophy.
Unfortunately this model is not available in South Africa (SA) but has already been established at the ECCPS in Germany by our colleagues. They kindly gave me the opportunity to investigate this model at their laboratory. During my time in Germany, I learned how to perform the surgical procedure to induce right ventricular hypertrophy in rats. I also studied how to perform specialized histological staining to assess pulmonary muscularisation, medial thickening and cardiomyocyte size. Furthermore, I learned how to perform right heart catheterisation for the measurement of cardiac hemodynamic parameters. I accomplished the latter with Millar catheter or custom made fluid filled catheter. None of the above techniques were available at the Hatter Institute in South Africa, so upon my return I started the process to establish them there. All of us at the Hatter Institute in South Africa are very pleased that Prof. Ralph Schermuly and his group are willing to start an official collaboration in 2014. Prof. Schermuly has suggested a visit to our laboratory in South Africa, together with two of his postdoctoral fellows. They will then further assist me in fine-tuning the techniques I established here and help bring it up to standard. Prof. Schermuly suggested that we could also collect some heart and lung samples in South Africa and ship them to Germany which will allow him and his team of experts to do various analyses. Another possible arm of this collaborative effort would be to investigate a population of patients in Cape Town diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension due to various underlying pathologies. We are very excited to start this collaboration in early 2014. I would like to thank the PVRI for their contribution, as without their support, none of the exciting developments would have been possible.