Student researcher wins with heart at the 2016 UQ URC

6 October 2016

University of Queensland researcher investigating what bitter taste receptors are doing in the heart and how they affect cardiac function won judges over at this year’s Undergraduate Research Conference.

Joshua Sheehy from the Faculty of Medicine earned an oral presentation award for his laboratory research with supervisor Professor Walter Thomas, Head of UQ’s School of Biomedical Science.

Mr Sheehy said cardiovascular disease is the underlying cause of almost one-third of deaths in Australia, so it is vitally important to find new ways to remedy heart dysfunction.

“Given that taste receptors have been found to exist in the heart and alter heart function, we see them as both a potential cause, and a potential treatment option for some cardiovascular-related diseases,” Mr Sheehy said.

“Our results show variations in bitter taste receptors can almost obliterate their function, which is to send messages to the rest of the heart and help it contract in a healthy way.

“What’s more is that we found these variations exist in up to 50 per cent of the human population.

“That’s a significant finding because if these variations and mutations are stopping the heart from working - that can have a big impact on health.”

Mr Sheehy said the research lab is in the early days of trials to see whether people with good heart function have normal taste receptors and if people with poor heart function have mutated taste receptors.

“This research allows us to understand and predict potential diseases these taste receptors may be associated with, and to move towards finding treatments for these diseases.”

The Undergraduate Research Conference is supported by the UQ Advantage Office, and Mr Sheehy will receive a $1,000 cash prize for his winning presentation.

Media: Kim Lyell, UQ Faculty of Medicine,, +61 7 3346 5214, 0427 530 647.