April 8, 2012

Pain could play a positive role in heart attacks

Man gets chest painFeeling the pain of a heart attack could actually help the heart minimise damage, research we funded has found.

Scientists from the University of Bristol showed that pain signals from heart nerves may actually help attract stem cells to help repair some of the damage caused by a heart attack, when a blood clot blocks an artery serving the heart. They made the breakthrough thanks partly to our grant of £200,242 for their pioneering work.

The researchers found that during a heart attack, a molecule called substance P is released from nerves. Substance P mobilises stem cells from the bone marrow to the site of injury, where they have the ability to generate new vessels to bypass a blocked artery and restore some of the blood flow.

After initial experiments in mice, the researchers showed that the Substance P released by cardiac nerves may play a positive role in human patients who have had a heart attack.

Dr Hélène Wilson, our Research Advisor, said:

“Pain is a very complicated process. It’s not just the body’s way of warning you that something is wrong – when we feel pain, it can also be a sign that the body is doing what it can to fix the problem.

When we feel pain, it can also be a sign that the body is doing what it can to fix the problem

“As well as opening up exciting new avenues for new heart repair treatments, this discovery highlights the potential role of pain in our natural response to having a heart attack. The pain of a heart attack is extremely distressing for patients, and we have to do everything we can to keep it to a minimum. But this discovery opens up the possibility that in the future we might be able to harness pain more effectively in the crucial window just after a heart attack, when there could be an opportunity to keep damage to a minimum.”

The study was published in American Heart Association journal Circulation. It was also funded by a grant from the European Union.