The Cardiovascular Research programme on essential hypertension, a network to analyse arterial smooth muscle ion channels, is named HERACLES (Hipertensión Esencial: Red de Análisis de Canales iónicos de la musculatura Lisa arterial y su Explotación terapéutica Sistemática), the Spanish name for the mythic hero, Hercules. This programme was initially established as a group network (G03/045) in the 2003 Call of Spain’s national health research fund, Fondo de Investigación Sanitaria (FIS), and earned Excellent group status in 2006. The network was again funded in the 2006 Call of the Carlos III Institute of Spain’s Ministry of Health and Consumer Affairs (now the Ministry of Health and Social Policy) for 2007-2012 (Red HERACLES RD06/0009). For the 2013 Network Call, HERACLES and the other cardiovascular research networks in Spain were integrated into one network, the Red de Investigación Cardiovascular (RIC).
The programme focuses on multidisciplinary research on the mechanisms of essential hypertension, with particular emphasis on the regulation of arterial smooth muscle function by ionic channels and the consequences for the onset of cardiovascular diseases. The multidisciplinary approach includes physiopathology, epidemiology, cardiology, neurology, population genetics, proteomics, molecular biology, cell physiology, bioinformatics and statistics. HERACLES studies epidemiological aspects of blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases (primarily myocardial infarction and cerebrovascular disease), and the research strategy focuses on cardiovascular prevention.
In its first phase, HERACLES successfully worked on the genetic and functional study of the two subunits of the BKCa potassium channel. Another major research area was the development of the patient’s protein map during coronary syndrome, as well as the effects of estrogens on the protein map of endothelium and vascular smooth muscle exposed to oxidative stress situations.
Collaborations between the HERACLES groups have resulted in coordinated projects, patents and high-impact published articles. Two specific examples of this multidisciplinary research activity are the MERCED clinical trial completed in August 2006, which contributed information about the effects of Raloxifen on endothelial function, and the ongoing PRO-CELL study, which is exploring the role of circulating endothelial cells.
The configuration of the HERACLES programme in the phase that began in 2013 is designed to strengthen the presence of expert groups in cellular physiology, cardiovascular epidemiology and population genetics, of new clinical groups, and of basic research groups in the field of endogenous regulation and the pharmacology of vascular function, which will facilitate knowledge translation and transfer, as appropriate.