Interdisciplinarity in Pulmonary Hypertension – An interview with Prof. Jean-Luc Vachiery professor of Cardiology at the Free University of Brussels and member of the WSPHA Scientific Board

Professor Vachiery, please give us a little introduction about yourself.

My name is Jean-Luc Vachiery, I’m a cardiologist, professor in cardiology working at the Free University of Brussels Erasme Academy hospital.

Pulmonary Hypertension is a peculiar disease. What are its most critical aspects?

Pulmonary Hypertension and, I would say, pulmonary vascular diseases in general, is a very critical field in medicine because it gathers in fact the knowledge from the lab, as the cell changes in the pulmonary vasculature, but also the clinical aspects. It joins a lot of specialties that include internal medicine, rheumatology, cardiology and pneumology of course, but also the fields of surgery, biomolecular physiology and pathophysiology. So, in a way, from a rare disease we obtain a broad view on health and disease states.

What possible directions can the research on Pulmonary Hypertension take in the future?

We recognize more and more that in the field there is a connection between the genetic predisposition and also the clinical presentation, so future research should look at the biological mechanisms leading to the disease, but also the phenotypes of patients that are suffering from any form of Pulmonary Hypertension. Even in group 2 Pulmonary Hypertension, we have different clinical presentations; future research should focus on the fields of biomolecular physiology, changes in cellular genetics, and the different phenotypes and how they present with Pulmonary Hypertension. 

When did your interest for Pulmonary Hypertension arise?

Before becoming the director of the Pulmonary Hypertension and Heart Failure clinic, I had to start somewhere, and initially, I wanted to be an ICU doctor. This is how I started working in Robert Naeije’s lab back in the late 80s. Then, after that, when I got back to the clinic I developed a strong interest in pulmonary vascular diseases and all the contributions that can be made from the clinical perspective, and this is how I decided to become a cardiologist. In parallel with my clinical career, I had a research career in the lab in the beginning of my career and then moved on to clinical research. Of course, things blend together when you start seeing patients with this disease and this is where my definite interest in Pulmonary Hypertension began: It was an encounter with a young woman suffering from very severe Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension at the end of her pregnancy, and that was one of these very important moments that really determined my future career.

How will the WSPH Association impact on the study of this disease? 

There are important milestones in the development of pulmonary vascular diseases and the creation of the World Symposia on Pulmonary Hypertension Association is one of these important milestones. In fact, we cannot wait five years because new patients with the disease still present to the clinic, the research still ongoing and there are new data that are coming out almost every day. So, we cannot wait for five years to provide those data, that research and these directions for the future. This is why this Association is very critical and very important. In fact, it’s even more important that it encompasses several specialties in medicine and, also, it plans to have joint ventures with other organizations that already exist, and this is very critical.