Professor Asif Ahmed

Professor Asif Ahmed - Pro-Vice Chancellor for Health

Professor Asif Ahmed is Aston University’s Pro-Vice Chancellor for Health and a member of the University Executive Board, where he leads the formulation and implementation of biomedical strategy for the University. He is responsible for overseeing the development and implementation of a major new healthcare strategy for the university; leading the strategic direction of healthcare research; working across the university to facilitate cross-cutting initiatives in biomedicine, business and engineering; and developing and strengthening new and existing external relationships with international and local universities, NHS partners and other healthcare providers and with a range of research organisations and funding agencies.

Ahmed’s research interests are focused on pregnancy disorders and cardiovascular disease; his work has identified protective enzymes and growth factors which may prevent preeclampsia, a hypertensive disorder that kills 70,000 pregnant women worldwide each year. These findings are currently being tested in a clinical trial called StAmP (Statins to Ameliorate early onset Pre-eclampsia) using the cholesterol lowering drug pravastatin.

Asif was brought up and educated in North London, graduating from King’s College with a BSc (Hons) in Pharmacology before going on to obtain a PhD in Surgery from University College London for his work on platelet abnormalities during bypass surgery. In 2012 he joined Aston from the University of Edinburgh, where he was Assistant Principal for International Post-Doctoral Training and held the Gustav Born Chair of Vascular Biology in the BHF Centre for Cardiovascular Sciences. Previously he was Professor of Reproductive Physiology at the University of Birmingham and Visiting Professor at Stanford University, California, USA. Professor Ahmed is a world-renowned vascular and obstetric biologist and has published over 120 articles in high impact peer-reviewed journals, held worldwide patents and has been highly successful in securing strategic and programme grants from the British Heart Foundation and Medical Research Council. He has served on the Medical Research Council Population and Systems Medicine Board and is one of the founding members of the European Vascular Biology Organisation.

Professor Ahmed’s laboratory was amongst the first to signal the importance of vascular growth factors in pregnancy and pioneered the concept of angiogenic imbalance theory in preeclampsia in the mid 1990s. In 2000, he discovered that the enzyme placental heme oxygenase (HO) protects the human placenta against injury (Mol Med. 6:391-409) and went on to identify carbon monoxide (CO), the gaseous product of HO, as an inhibitor of anti-angiogenic proteins (soluble Flt-1 and soluble endoglin) (Circulation 115:1789-97Natural Protein Offers New Therapeutic Potential for Pre-Eclampsia). Soluble Flt-1, the natural anti-VEGF factor in circulation, is increasingly recognized as a major factor responsible for the clinical signs of preeclampsia. Ahmed and Ahmad identified soluble Flt-1 as the single most important molecule responsible for angiogenic imbalance in preeclampsia by demonstrating that the removal of sFlt-1 from preeclamptic samples restored angiogenic balance (Circ Res 95:884-91) which was confirmed in vivo in women by others.

The identification that increasing HO activity could provide protection against preeclampsia formed the basis for the world’s first randomized controlled clinical trial on statins in pregnancy, the aforementioned StAmP Trial (see: Heart disease drugs could treat pregnant womenHeart drugs used in pre-eclampsia pregnancy trial).

Recently, Ahmed’s laboratory at Aston University has identified another diatomic molecule, hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which offers potential to treat both preeclampsia and fetal growth restriction in pregnancy (Circulation 127(25):2514-22). This work was recently highlighted as being a “groundbreaking study” by Circulation and within the media (see: Breakthrough in fight against pre-eclampsia). This is the first time two naturally-occurring small gaseous molecules (CO and H2S) have been shown to prevent the release of the culprit proteins (sFlt-1 and sEng) which are elevated in preeclampsia. More importantly, this study shows that it is possible to restore fetal growth and fix vascular abnormalities (angiogenesis) in the placenta by giving back hydrogen sulfide. Before this decade is out, Aston’s team may have developed a treatment for preeclampsia.

Prof Ahmed has an international reputation in angiogenesis and vascular protection. He was Chair of the Organising Committee for 7th International Congress on Heme Oxygenases and Related Enzymes and his research impact is self-evident. Based on his discoveries, two additional international clinical trials have been initiated (details here and here).