Professor Manuel Mayr and his team at King's College London are studying the molecules and proteins that put some people at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Ultimately, this could help better identify people at risk of having a heart attack or a stroke, and reduce the number of people living with heart failure.
Finding 'dangerous' plaques
Fatty plaques in blood vessel walls are the main cause of heart attack and stroke. There are two main types of fatty plaque; stable and unstable. The most dangerous are unstable plaques – these are the ones which urgently need treating, as they are most likely to rupture and cause a blockage, resulting in a potentially life-threatening heart attack or stroke.
From genes to proteins
The instructions to build all the proteins in the human body are written in our genes, and genes vary between individuals. We now know about many genes which increase a person’s risk of heart disease, so Professor Mayr is taking this a step further by looking for proteins or biological ‘markers’ in the blood which indicate if someone is at risk of atherosclerosis or plaque rupture.
Using complex machines
The large-scale study of proteins, known as ‘proteomics’, relies on the use of sophisticated machines called mass spectrometers. They are able to quickly and reliably measure proteins found in samples, such as blood or serum samples.
Using these machines, Professor Mayr and his team are able to examine plaques to find out which proteins are present in unstable, heart attack and stroke-causing plaques.
How does it work?
The team will also be working out how different proteins interact, causing lipids like LDL cholesterol (or ‘bad’ cholesterol) to get trapped in artery walls.
Professor Mayr hopes that one day his work will find markers in the blood stream, much like LDL cholesterol, which can help identify who is at high risk of a heart attack or stroke.