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Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide accounting for 17.9 million lives each year, in turn representing 31% of all global deaths. Heart and circulatory diseases cause more than a quarter (26%) of all deaths in Northern Ireland, or over 4,100 deaths each year - that’s an average of 11 people each day.

The new facility will greatly enhance Ulster University’s ability to conduct cutting-edge nutrition and cardiovascular research, a priority area within Ulster’s Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE) and a global health issue of particular concern for people in Northern Ireland.

Ulster University has been conducting pioneering research to address high blood pressure (hypertension), the biggest risk factor for heart disease and stroke globally, and has discovered a novel nutrition solution for preventing and treating hypertension in people genetically at risk of developing hyopertension. The state-of-the-art equipment at the new facility will enable researchers to extend this work and importantly, carry out studies that will provide a greater insight into how nutrition is influencing cardiovascular risk, as well as monitoring response to nutrition interventions over time.

The Nutrition and Vascular studies unit was previously based within the Medical Research Council’s Elsie Widdowson Nutrition Laboratory in Cambridge in partnership with the NNEdPro Global Centre for Nutrition and Health and has now been transferred to Ulster. The new facility will be embedded within NICHE, Ulster’s Centre of Excellence for nutrition research, set up with European Union structural funds in 1996.

The new facility will be co-led by Professor Mary Ward and Professor Sumantra (Shumone) Ray who holds a newly commissioned fractional chair in Global Nutrition, Health and Disease at Ulster. Professor Ray is also Executive Director of the NNEdPro Global Centre in Cambridge. Via NNEdPro, a new nutrition research collaboration has been established involving Cambridge, Ulster, Parma (Italy) and Imperial College London. Through this unique partnership, Ulster is ideally placed to conduct novel studies investigating important relationships between diet and cardiovascular disease with impacts that can be readily translated to improve the lives of patients and the public.

The NNEdPro Global Patron, The Lord Rana MBE, Baron of Malone, formally inaugurated the new platform in Coleraine today. Lord Rana said:

“The movement of the NNEdPro Nutrition and Vascular Studies Platform from Cambridge to Ulster University marks a key opportunity for NICHE to further its already pioneering reputation of world class nutrition research and innovation in cardiovascular disease which is an important problem in the region and globally.”

Professor Mary Ward commented:

“We are delighted to announce our new facility at Ulster which will greatly enhance our ability to conduct top-quality nutrition research to inform policy and practice aimed at preventing and treating heart disease and stroke.

“In parallel, we will continue to work closely with key stakeholders including clinical colleagues, local and national charities, and most importantly patients and the general public, to ensure that the work is translated for maximum impact on cardiovascular health.”

Local man Patrick McColgan has witnessed first hand the impact Ulster University research can have. He explained:

“By participating in cardiovascular research at Ulster I found out that I had a gene that made me vulnerable to high blood pressure. A novel discovery by NICHE researchers, of a nutrition solution to treat blood pressure in adults with this gene, has important implications for the prevention and treatment of blood pressure. For me personally and my family this is life-changing; a healthy heart is priceless.”