Hypertension is widespread in Germany, with millions of people affected. If blood pressure values remain consistently above 140/90 mmHg, this can in the worst case lead to a heart attack or stroke. Researchers at the Experimental and Clinical Research Center (ECRC ), a joint institution of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, are studying how high blood pressure damages blood vessels and organs – and how medicine can prevent this from occurring.
Digestion plays a special role in all of this. When gut bacteria break down dietary fiber, short-chain fatty acids are formed. Dr. Hendrik Bartolomaeus discovered that one fatty acid in particular has a blood pressure lowering effect and reduces organ damage. At the ECRC, a team administered the metabolite propionic acid to mice with cardiovascular damage. The researchers found that these mice suffered less cardiovascular inflammation and had better blood pressure values. “Anti-inflammatory T helper cells are responsible for this effect” explains Bartolomaeus. “The protective effect of the fatty acid is lost when these immune cells are turned off in the mice.”
Award ceremony was postponed to 2021
Bartolomaeus is now receiving the 2020 Walter Siegenthaler Medal for his research, which was published in the journal Circulation in 2018. The science award for early career researchers recognizes lead authors for fundamental scientific work on current topics in internal medicine. In addition to the silver medal, the award is endowed with €5,000. The Walter-Siegenthaler-Gesellschaft für Fortschritte in der Inneren Medizin (Walter Siegenthaler Society for Progress in Internal Medicine) normally presents the award every two years. Last year’s award ceremony was postponed to November 13, 2021, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Bartolomaeus will accept the first place medal in person at a symposium in Cologne. He hopes that “short-chain fatty acids like propionic acid may also play a role in high blood pressure in humans.” A targeted diet, he says, could then influence the gut bacteria and their metabolic products in a therapy designed for hypertension patients. Bartolomaeus is the lead author of the study on which he collaborated with the research labs of Dr. Sofia Forslund, Dr. Nicola Wilck and Professors Dominik Müller, Ralf Dechend, Jens Fielitz and Maik Gollasch.
Text: Christina Anders
Hendrik Bartolomaeus et al. (2018): Circulation.