Edinburgh-native Richard Weller was studying medicine in Australia when something suddenly struck him as odd: Why are the Scots so sick? Australians suffer from heart disease at one-third the rate that Britons do, with lower death rates from heart attacks and heart failure, and fewer strokes overall. When Weller looked into it, this wasn’t unique to Australia and England: In fact, there are wide gaps in mortality even within the UK, a gradient which maps roughly … geographically? A five-degree change in latitude — between London and Edinburg, for example — shows a nearly 20 percent higher rate of mortality. Weller and his team have been working ever since to crack this mysterious gap, and most recently their research shows it may be related to exposure to sunlight. Nitric oxide (NO), a chemical transmitter produced by the skin and stored in great reserves, is released by exposure to UV rays, and this in turn is very important to cardiovascular health.
Weller is a senior lecturer in Dermatology at the University of Edinburgh. His two areas of study are the role of NO in human skin physiology and the role of skin barrier function deficiencies in atopic disease.