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Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry

Dr Zahra Raisi-Estabragh

Meet Dr Zahra Raisi-Estabragh, British Heart Foundation Clinical Research Training Fellow and Cardiology speciality trainee at the William Harvey Research Institute.

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Please could you tell us about your research? 

I am a trainee cardiologist and British Heart Foundation clinical research training fellow. My research is focused on cardiovascular epidemiology, population health, and advanced cardiovascular imaging. I use population-level data to investigate novel risk factors for heart disease with the aim of gaining new insights into disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. I have worked on a range of research topics including exploring the association of resting heart rate with cardiovascular outcomes, the relationship between dietary habits and cardiovascular imaging phenotypes, and the links between bone and heart health. I am also working to improve the way we image the heart. I lead a collaboration with the University of Barcelona investigating a new image analysis technique, called radiomics, for obtaining uniquely detailed information from heart MRI scans. In recent work, we demonstrated the incremental value of this technique over conventional image analysis in discriminating key vascular risk factors. In light of the pandemic, I have refocused my research to improve our understanding of risk factors for coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), with particular focus on factors that are relevant to patients with heart conditions. The UK Biobank , which incorporates detailed information on over half a million participants has been a key resource in facilitating my work.

 

Recently you led some research which discovered that there are higher rates of severe Covid-19 in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) populations which remain unexplained. Could you tell us more about this?  

The UK Biobank has established rapid linkage to data relevant to Covid-19, such as test results from Public Health England, for its participants. This information has been made available to approved researchers, providing a unique opportunity to investigate risk factors for Covid-19 in a richly characterised cohort. I led a study investigating potential explanations for the increased risk of Covid-19 in Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) populations, considering a wide range of socio-economic, behavioural, and medical factors. We uncovered a complex and multifaceted relationship with many different factors (e.g., obesity, household overcrowding, material deprivation) influencing Covid-19 risk, but none providing a complete explanation. These findings suggest, factors which underlie ethnic differences in Covid-19 cases may not be easily captured. Further investigation of alternative biological susceptibilities as well as more comprehensive assessment of the complex economic, social and behavioural differences should be prioritised.

 

Could you tell us a bit about what living through the pandemic has been like for you? 

The pandemic has clearly placed a huge pressure on trainee clinical academics, and whilst I have been fortunate to be able to undertake new research on Covid-19, I am certainly very mindful of the impact that the pandemic will have on the funding landscape longer term.