PVM Research Day Keynote Speaker Explains Link Between Sleep and Heart Health
As part of the annual PVM Research Day, the College of Veterinary Medicine hosted Dr. Filip Swirski, associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), who gave the keynote lecture entitled, “Sleep is Good for Your Heart. But How?” A member of the Harvard Immunology PhD program, Dr. Swirski studies innate immunity and leukocyte communication. His research is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Swirski obtained his PhD in Immunology from McMaster University in Canada and went on to complete his postdoctoral studies in vascular biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and MGH before being recruited by the Center for Systems Biology at MGH and the Harvard Medical School. In his lecture, Dr. Swirski pointed out that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer not only in the United States, but worldwide. In addition to the major threat it poses to the population, cardiovascular disease is anticipated to cost global healthcare trillions of dollars over the next several decades. Dr. Swirski admonished that we should take action to avoid it as best we can, emphasizing that getting a good night’s sleep is a step in the right direction.
Dr. Swirski has studied the effect of sleep on levels of orexin, a chemical produced by the brain that is closely associated with awareness. “If we have poor sleep, we limit our orexin production,” Dr. Swirski said. “When you’re feeling tired, your orexin levels will be low. When you have poor sleep, you’re limiting the amount of orexin that is produced and unleashing inflammation, giving yourself risk for cardiovascular disease.” He went on to explain, “That’s the argument that links sleep to heart disease. Not to say it is the only link, but it is one link that is relevant to this path.”
As part of the Center for Systems Biology, Dr. Swirski’s lab seeks to elucidate how leukocytes shape and are shaped by inflammation. Researchers work with models of acute and chronic inflammation relevant to infectious, cardiovascular, and metabolic diseases, and focus on cell development, communication, and function. They also collaborate with clinical investigators to translate their fundamental discoveries to better understand, and ultimately improve, human health.
Writer(s): Helen Thimlar, PVM Communications Intern | firstname.lastname@example.org