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UCL academics awarded prestigious prizes for work on the heart

Publication date: Sep 11, 2008 11:52:04 AM

Two UCL academics have received prominent international awards from the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), in recognition of their work to understand and treat conditions of the heart.

Professor John Martin, Director of the UCL Centre for Cardiovascular Biology & Medicine and British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular Science, has been awarded the ESC’s Gold Medal. The only other holder of this medal in the UK is Sir James Black, Nobel Laureate. Dr Paul Riley, UCL Institute of Child Health, has been awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award 2008 of the ESC Council on Basic Cardiovascular Science.

Commenting on the ESC awards, Professor Ed Byrne, Executive Dean of the UCL Faculty of Biomedical Sciences and Head of the Medical School, said: “Heart and circulatory disease is the UK's biggest killer and these awards demonstrate that UCL research is breaking new ground in the understanding and treatment of these conditions. I am delighted that the ESC has chosen to recognise the scientific endeavours of John and Paul and offer my sincere congratulations to them both.”

Professor Martin has pursued an active research career, examining how the manufacture of platelets in the body causes blood to clot, how arteries age, and the protective role played by the gene for vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). His realisation that VEGF could be used therapeutically led him to start his own company, Ark Therapeutics, which is now taking gene therapy for vascular damage through clinical trials. He has also begun a phase III clinical trial to test whether the damage of heart attack can be repaired by direct injection of a patient’s own bone marrow cells into the heart muscle.

Professor Martin also wrote the Heart Plan for Europe, a ‘tool box’ to help each country design its own bespoke prevention package for heart health, and he serves on a number of professional boards. As well as his scientific and medical endeavours, Professor Martin is a published writer and poet. He studied for his first degree in philosophy at a Spanish University and is fluent in Spanish and French, as well as being a keen artist.

The award made to Dr Paul Riley, Reader in the Molecular Medicine Unit at the UCL Institute of Child Health, recognises a landmark discovery in the field of basic cardiovascular science when his team found that a protein called Thymosin beta4 could mobilise dormant cells from the epicardium to form new blood vessels in the heart – a major step towards finding a DIY mechanism to repair injury following heart attack.

Dr Riley said: “I’m very pleased indeed that my work has attracted professional recognition from the ESC.” When not engaged in scientific pursuits, Dr Riley is a keen footballer, playing in an 8-a-side league with other scientists and clinicians close to the Institute in nearby Coram’s Fields.

-Ends-

Notes for Editors

1. Journalists seeking more information, or to interview Professor Martin or Dr Riley, can contact Ruth Metcalfe in the UCL Media Relations Office on tel: +44 (0)20 7679 9739, mobile: +44 (0)7990 675 947, out of hours: +44 (0)7917 271 364, e-mail: r.metcalfe@ucl.ac.uk

2. Research images and photographs of Professor Martin and Dr Riley are available from UCL Media Relations using the above contact details.

3. Research by Professor Martin and Dr Riley has been generously supported by the British Heart Foundation and the Medical Research Council.

About UCL

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. In the government’s most recent Research Assessment Exercise, 59 UCL departments achieved top ratings of 5* and 5, indicating research quality of international excellence.

UCL is in the top ten world universities in the 2007 THES-QS World University Rankings, and the third-ranked UK university in the 2007 league table of the top 500 world universities produced by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. UCL alumni include Marie Stopes, Jonathan Dimbleby, Lord Woolf, Alexander Graham Bell, and members of the band Coldplay. www.ucl.ac.uk