Modelling of blood pressure control systems in the body


Violetta McLoone, John Ringwood


Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a common health risk in modern society, with 20% of the population affected on average, and with this percentage rising considerably with age. Hypertension can result in many cases in the development of cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and coronary heart disease, as well as renal (kidney) conditions.

Despite the enormous research efforts, the causes of hypertension in about 95% of the affected population are still widely undetermined. The control of blood pressure is a complex mixture of neural, hormonal and local autoregulatory interactions in the heart, kidney and blood vessels. Modelling of such systems can enhance the understanding of the interactions of their various components and especially the ones leading to disease.

We currently model the blood pressure response to high salt intake, which is a major issue in the developed world, with people consuming tens of times the require levels of salt. Our models have shown that the blood pressure response to salt occurs at various time scales, possibly due to differing genes and environmental factors, with some parts of the response leading to sustained hypertension. It is hoped that future physiological experiments can link particular genes with each time scale in order to assess the likelihood of individuals developing hypertension due to high salt intake and thus to allow preventative measures to be taken in time.