Centre for Genomic & Experimental Medicine
Centre for Genomic & Experimental Medicine

Dr Robert Hillary awarded British Heart Foundation Fellowship

BHF Fellowship awarded to Dr Hillary to explore new biomarkers for cardiovascular disease in Generation Scotland

Dr Robert Hillary
Dr Robert Hillary

Dr Robert Hillary has been awarded a four-year Immediate Fellowship from the British Heart Foundation to investigate new biomarkers that could improve the early detection of heart disease and stroke. He has been awarded over £280,000 to lead a multi-disciplinary project under the supervision of Professor Cathie Sudlow. The Fellowship will take place across four universities and will begin in April 2023.

Specifically, Dr Hillary’s project will focus on an understudied molecular process termed glycosylation that becomes dysfunctional in cardiovascular disease. Proteins in our blood are the target of most medications and can be used as biomarkers for various disease states.

During glycosylation, many of these proteins are coated with sugar molecules that can alter their function. These sugar coats are difficult to measure and only a fraction have been well characterised in population studies. Whereas some have been linked to cardiovascular disease, we still do not know if this is a cause or consequence of having the disease.

Dr Hillary will use a new cost-effective and highly efficient technology to study sugar coats of hundreds of proteins in blood samples from 3,000 volunteers. This will be the most detailed study to date that examines these sugar coats and their role in human disease. Dr Hillary will apply cutting-edge statistical methods to find out how these sugar coats affect the risk of developing heart disease. He will also determine whether changes in this process are a cause of poorer cardiovascular health or vice versa. Together, this research will improve our understanding of why cardiovascular disease occurs and refine our strategies to predict disease risk.

Dr Hillary undertook his PhD training at CGEM (2017-2021), and his thesis focussed on identifying blood proteins that may play a role in dementia and cognitive decline. During his time at CGEM, Dr Hillary was supervised by Professor Riccardo Marioni and Dr Kathy Evans, in addition to close supervision and support from Professor Caroline Hayward, Professor Ian Deary and Professor Craig Ritchie. Dr Hillary then undertook a short postdoctoral position with Professor Marioni and is now completing a 1-year MRC-funded Fellowship at the Integrative Epidemiology Unit, University of Bristol where he is working on epigenetics of common disease states.

During his Fellowship, Dr Hillary will be based the Usher Institute, but will retain strong links with CGEM, continuing his close work with the Generation Scotland cohort. He will be supervised by Professor Cathie Sudlow and gain a strong training in cardiovascular epidemiology and clinical data science. He will also spend time working with Professor Pauline Rudd (University College Dublin), Professor Markus Ralser (Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin) and Professor Caroline Relton (University of Bristol). Dr Hillary will receive training in both ‘wet lab’ and ‘dry lab’ approaches that will support his future career ambition of leading his own group in molecular epidemiology. 

I am very grateful to my supervisors, both past and present, for their support in my Fellowship applications. There are many people to thank, in particular including Professor Cathie Sudlow, Professor Riccardo Marioni, Professor Caroline Hayward and Professor David Porteous for their time and feedback on my applications. I would also like to thank Professor Tim Aitman and Funding Specialists Anna Anderson and Harry Burn for their guidance and patience in getting my applications over the line. Furthermore, I am very grateful to all of the staff and volunteers in Generation Scotland who make our work possible, and through this work we will endeavour to significantly improve our understanding of the causes underlying cardiovascular disease.

Dr Robert Hillary


Robert Hillary Profile page

Robert Hillary Twitter (external) 

Robert Hillary PhD thesis 

Best Thesis award from Genetics Society (Previous news story)

Cathie Sudlow Website

Generation Scotland website

Marioni Group Website