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Interview with Prof. Andrew Newby - CBSC Chair 2004-2006

First Chairman of the Council on Basic Cardiovascular Science

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Council on Basic Cardiovascular Science, the SoT interviewed the first chair of the council, Prof. Andrew Newby.
Andrew Newby is Professor of Vascular Cell Biology at the University of Bristol (British Heart Foundation). 

Basic Sciences, Pharmacology, Genomics and Cardiovascular Pathology

Prof. A. Newby is a world-expert in vulnerable atherosclerotic plaques and vein-graft failure and angioplasty restenosis. He has highly contributed to advance in understanding the role played by matrix degrading metalloproteinases in weakening the plaque extracellular matrix and the pathways that regulate their production. In fact, he is known for the discovery of the role of matrix degrading metalloproteinases in vascular smooth muscle cell migration and proliferation. He is also one of the first to use vascular adenovirus-mediated gene transfer. Likewise, Prof. Newby has made a major contribution to the development of taxol-eluting intracoronary stents that have greatly reduced restenosis after angioplasty. In addition he has also developed a unique approach to prevent vein graft stenosis using an extravascular stent. For more information go to:

What challenges did you face coming in as the first Chair of the CBCS?
The only real challenge I had, with so much talent to choose from, was getting elected chairman. After that, with the enthusiastic support of the President, Michal Tendera, and help from Karin Sipido and Rafaele de Caterina, who were on the Board, we could move ahead really quickly. It was exhilarating, like steering a ship in full sail before a favourable wind. There was a real urge to improve the quality and experience of Basic Science within the ESC by coordinating the actions of the Working Groups and bringing in expertise from the sister societies. The first meeting of the new Council, getting all those clever and imaginative people in the same room, it’s hardly surprising we came up with a string of pioneering ideas that were not only accepted for Basic Science but became models for other parts of the ESC. Examples included the Council pre-screening proposals for the Basic Science Track at the ESC Congress and instigating a social event specifically for Basic Scientists.  We also brought in travel grants, grants to sister societies and an Outstanding Achievement Award all during the first two years.  

What do you think have been the greatest achievements of the CBCS in its first 10 years?
Undoubtedly the Summer School and the Frontiers in Cardiovascular Biology meetings are the key achievements. The Summer School grew out of my experiences in the European Vascular Genomics Network, an FP7 project. Based on that, we knew it could work and be met with enthusiasm by delegates. However, it would have come to nothing without the incredible generosity of the ESC Board and the efficiency of the staff at the Heart House, especially Susan Del Gaiso. From the springboard of that success, Karin, Raffaele and Axel Pries, in particular, persuaded us to take the bold step of organizing FCVB. Personally, I doubted whether there was room for another European meeting, but the soaring delegate numbers have proved me wrong. The distinctive style and steadily-improving quality of the symposium have made this a must-attend event, just at a time when the American Heart Association Basic Science Sessions have been sadly declining. Lina Badimon and her team deserve a lot of congratulations for making the meeting in Barcelona such a memorable success.

How has the research environment changed in that time?
The entry of many new countries, especially in Asia, fully into the global scientific community has had a massive impact. It has at least doubled and maybe more the number of cardiovascular scientists competing to make discoveries and publish them in the best journals. Fortunately, electronic publication has also grown hugely in volume and sometimes in stature to accommodate this upsurge. The recent global economic crisis has dampened spending on research, substantially in some countries, but it has thankfully been protected in others. Large scale ventures, such as genome wide screening projects and the ENCODE collaborations have become an increasingly important feature of science in general and cardiovascular science in particular. I’ve also noticed more young people dipping into research science at the PhD student level before going on to other careers. This could be seen as a waste but, given that they will mostly likely be working at least 3 years longer than my generation, why not enjoy the excitement and challenges of research for a few years at the start?

What are the new/remaining challenges?

Accessing and digesting all the new information generated by a bigger scientific community using ever more powerful system-wide approaches is the biggest challenge.  We risk being drowned in a tidal wave of overwhelmingly complex data. More emphasis on training in bio-informatics will help; and the generation of free web-based tools and maybe even mobile apps could help to keep us all afloat. It brings me back to Summer Schools and meetings like FCVB. They are going to have an increasingly important didactic role, on top of the traditional one as forums to disseminate new results. But if they are to succeed, the most original scientists are going to have to learn the under-rated skill of communicating at a level others less gifted can understand. The divorce between research and teaching in Universities is a lot to blame. Having your lectures graded by undergraduates can be a humbling experience; but it undoubtedly makes you a better scientific communicator.

What progress in the understanding/treatment of atherosclerosis has been achieved over the last 10 years?

Wow, that’s a hard question!  I could point areas such as stem-cell biology and microRNAs where the knowledge base has expanded enormously. However, in general, I think that GWAS and particularly Mendelian Randomisation, something developed here in Bristol by colleagues Debbie Lawlor and George Davy-Smith, will have a bigger long-term impact. These tools allow us to separate causal events from consequences and therefore guide the selection of drug targets. Two examples relevant to atherosclerosis are lowering of HDL, which fails in MR and has so far proved an expensive failure, and inhibiting PCSK9, which emerged from GWAS and looks like an excellent approach to further cholesterol lowering.