Get paid £200 to take part in NI research into cardiovascular health

Lisburn woman Holly Neill is part of a Ulster University team seeking volunteers for a study into how heart health can be improved through food supplements.

By Helen McGurk
Wednesday, 30th March 2022, 5:34 pm
Holly Neill and the team hope the study will lead to a reduction in cardiovascular disease and deaths in NI
Holly Neill and the team hope the study will lead to a reduction in cardiovascular disease and deaths in NI

Cardiovascular disease remains one of the main causes of disease and disability in Northern Ireland.

Heart and circulatory diseases (e.g. heart attacks, heart failure, angina and strokes) cause around a quarter of all deaths (approximately 4,100) in Northern Ireland each year.

Holly Neill, a postdoctoral research associate at Ulster University, Coleraine, said: “I’m sure we can all think of someone close to us who has been affected by these devastating conditions.

“Many factors impact our risk of cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, inactivity, being overweight, family history, ethnic background, age, gender, alcohol and diet.”


Holly, 29. is currently part of a team involved in an exciting study within the Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE) at Ulster University, exploring the effect of polyphenols, which are naturally occurring compounds food in plant-based food such as fruits, vegetables, coffee and cocoa, can have on heart health.

She said: “As nutrition researchers, we are primarily interested in how diet can play a positive role to reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease and, ultimately, reduce incidences of related deaths and disabilities in Northern Ireland.

“Classic cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and long-term smoking are all associated with poor functioning of the arteries. Therefore, finding safe and effective food supplement products that may be able to improve how arteries work is a way to improve health in the Northern Irish population.

“It is thought that eating diets rich in polyphenols can have various protective effects in the body including benefits for cardiovascular health. One way to measure cardiovascular health is by flow-mediated dilation (FMD) which is a straightforward, non-invasive method to measure the health of our blood vessels, specifically endothelial dysfunction.

“This is a really fascinating measurement as we are able to take an ultrasound of an artery in the arm to identify how much it dilates (widens) under pressure. The maximum dilation of an artery is important as it can provide a robust indicator of an individual’s cardiovascular health.

“We will use this ultrasound FMD technique to measure the effectiveness of a polyphenol food supplement (grape extract) found in a variety of fruit, vegetables, and plant-based food products.”

The study uses a polyphenol rich grape extract which has been produced by external industrial collaborators, Activ’Inside, who are based in France.

“Activ’Inside is a health food-tech company specialising in the development, production and marketing of natural active ingredients for the health nutrition industry,” said Holly.

“We are also collaborating with the University of Parma in Italy. Due to the nature of our study, we also work closely with local registered doctors including Dr David Armstrong.


Holly added that all human research at the Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE) relies on members of the public who “generously give of their time”.

“We are always so grateful to each and every participant who takes part in our studies to advance nutritional science.

“We very often see the same participants returning to take part in future studies as they enjoy the experience so much and many see it as an opportunity to give back and help future generations. Joining human studies at the university can also be a great chance to receive a mini health check.”

The study is managed primarily by PhD researcher, BrianÓg Murphy and Dr Chris Gill, the chief investigator, and the team is currently recruiting males to take part in this heart health study. To be eligible, you must be aged 20-45 years, not taking supplements, have a BMI between 25-30 kg/m2, consume less than 10 units of alcohol per week and undertake less than five hours of endurance exercise per week.

“Anyone who is interested or would like more information can contact BrianÓg (07384304654; [email protected]) or simply click this link to complete the screening questionnaire to check eligibility - Completing the online form will only take a few minutes. All participants who complete the study will receive £200.

“We encourage members of the community to share details of this study with family and friends. At NICHE, we are constantly running multiple studies. If you are interested in taking part in other studies ongoing at NICHE, please follow us on social media to find out about the latest opportunities (see details below).

“You will be invited to the Human Intervention Studies Unit at Ulster University (Coleraine campus) on four separate occasions separated by seven days (e.g. four sequential Fridays). At each visit, you will have your blood pressure and FMD measured (ultrasound of the artery in your arm). Two blood samples will be collected at each visit before and after you consume the polyphenol rich grape extract capsule. We will also ask you to complete food diaries. Each visit should last approximately 3.5 hours and all participants will receive £200 upon successful completion of the study.

“Once all participants have attended their appointments, we will analyse all of the ultrasound and blood data. We expect this to be completed by the end of 2022. Results will then be published in international scientific papers and presented at scientific conferences; however, all participants will remain anonymous.

Social media details: Twitter: @NICHE_ULSTER, Facebook: NICHE – Nutrition at Ulster University, Instagram: @niche_ulster

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