Research

Three amazing facts about creepy-crawlies and how they are helping heart and circulatory disease research

Great ideas can come from unlikely places. That’s why our scientists aren’t afraid of creepy crawlies in their search for better ways to diagnose, treat, prevent and cure heart and circulatory conditions.

Here we meet three inspiring creatures with potentially life-saving abilities, and learn some surprising facts along the way.

1. Snakes live almost everywhere

Cobra wrapped around a tree's branch

Snakes live everywhere on Earth except Ireland, Iceland, New Zealand, and the North and South Poles.

Why are scientists interested in snake venom? 

BHF-funded researchers have been looking at a naturally-occurring protein in snake venom and how it affects the way blood clots. Researchers are investigating this to see if they can come up with new drugs to prevent blood clots from causing heart attacks and some types of stroke which could also help prevent the onset of vascular dementia.

2. Spiders have blue blood

A spider's web

The molecule that oxygen is bound to in spider blood contains copper, which gives their blood a blue colour. Human blood contains iron molecules bound to oxygen which makes our blood red.

Why do our bodies spin webs too?

Before modern medicine, spider webs were used for many hundreds of years to stop bleeding and help wounds heal (we don’t recommend you try this at home).

But did you know that the body has its own natural spider web to heal cuts? When a blood clot forms, a 3D layer of fibres forms around the clot to protect it from breaking up. These fibrin fibres have a remarkable ability to stretch without breaking. 

They can be stretched to more than five times their original size, which is more than spider silk, making fibrin the most stretchable biological fibre known to man. Clotting is a useful process when you cut yourself, but inside the body, can lead to life-threatening problems like heart attack and stroke.

Scientists have discovered abnormal fibrin clot structures in people with life-threatening blood clots. But breaking down fibrin with clot busting drugs is notoriously difficult and not always successful. BHF researchers are using state-of-the-art methods to study the structure of blood clots and investigate how the fibre arrangements change their sensitivity to clot busting drugs.  

3. Ticks are not insects 

A tick underneath the microscope

Ticks are often mistaken for being an insect, but they are actually a relative of arachnids like spiders, scorpions and mites. 

What do ticks have to do with the BHF? 

Ticks have been alive on Earth for hundreds of millions of years. Best known for spreading diseases like Lyme disease, these tiny insects may also help us to treat heart disease with their anti-inflammatory powers.

BHF funded researchers have identified that proteins found in tick saliva could be used to treat a dangerous type of heart infection which causes the heart to become inflamed – this can lead to sudden cardiac death in young adults or leave someone with long-term heart failure.

These are just a few projects which demonstrate how our scientists are exploring every avenue to accelerate our research and ultimately save more lives. Thanks to BHF-funded research, today more people than ever survive heart and circulatory diseases. But these conditions still cause heartbreak for millions of families – killing 1 in 4 people in the UK. We want to change these odds.

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