Getting to the heart of the matter

Cardiologist Professor John Cleland receives substantial funding from the British Heart Foundation to support his research on heart failure. He is a Clarivate Analytics Global Highly Cited Researcher for 2018, one of ten Glasgow researchers recognised as being in the top 1% for citations in their academic field.

Tell us a bit about your career this far.

I guess it was a negotiated solution between some fairly senior supervisors and myself that cardiology should be my career. I'm a graduate of the University of Glasgow and did my original training here. I completed my training and was appointed senior lecturer to St Mary’s and Hammersmith in London, moved back to Glasgow in the 1990’s, then to Hull as Professor for many years then back to Royal Brompton, Harefield and Imperial in London and now I am back; third time around. I’m now Director of the Robertson Centre for Biostatistics and Clinical Trials, which is a little bit of a career change for me.

What is the focus of your research, and what inspires you?

My research has mainly focused on patients with heart failure. It’s a very common and serious condition. Most people who develop heart problems will die from it. We are at a bit of a crossroads, because the treatments we have are effective for younger people, but less so for older people. I think that the next big frontier in cardiovascular research is the ageing process itself.

What drives you to do this research?

Heart failure is a real puzzle and many bits don’t fit neatly together. I am really interested in finding out why that is. You think you understand a problem, so you design clinical trials to put that understanding to the test, which work or fail. The patient’s response to a treatment tells you a lot about them, their disease and how to manage it better. The most interesting research often happens at the borders between very different fields of research.

How do you feel about being featured in the Highly Cited list?

It’s external recognition that my work is valued.

Tell us about the research you have been highly cited for.

I've had success in identifying treatments that form the basis for recommendations by international guidelines. I have led studies that have influenced the management for tens of millions of people with heart failure around the world.

I think the next big issue is to move on from treating the problem to preventing it. We're developing a much deeper understanding of how to do that. This may involve treatments directed at aging itself.

What keeps you at Glasgow?

The University has a strong academic reputation. I have a large number of academic colleagues here with similar interests. It also gives me the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues who have very different expertise from my own. The most interesting research often happens at the borders between very different fields of research. It’s just a very research-positive environment.

What’s next?

Gaining a better understanding of the epidemiology of heart failure is next. It's a poorly defined problem. It's not like a heart attack or a stroke where there's an event and we can be fairly sure of the diagnosis. At what point the heart can be said to have failed is very much a matter of opinion but if we want to make progress on prevention and treatment we must change the current dogma by redefining the meaning of heart failure.