Heart attack and stroke

5 November 2014        

Patient being prepared for angioplasty

An international collaboration of scientists that we helped fund has identified chemicals that could protect vital organs from long-term damage following a heart attack or stroke. The researchers hope the chemicals will be developed into new, injectable drugs.

In research published today in Nature, the scientists, led by teams at the University of Cambridge and two Medical Research Council Units, are the first to find that long-term damage after heart attack and stroke is caused by a build-up of a chemical called succinate. Succinate occurs naturally in the body when sugar and fat is broken down to release the energy stored in food.

Importantly, the researchers have found that simple chemicals – called malonate esters – can significantly limit the build-up of succinate, and the long-term organ damage, in mice and rats.

Read the blog from some of the researchers behind this exciting discovery.

Malonate esters are found in everyday fruits like strawberries apples and grapes, but not in high enough amounts to be beneficial. The researchers now hope the chemicals will provide a starting point for developing new injectable drugs that could be used to prevent some of the long-term damage caused by heart attack and stroke.

How does this work?

During a heart attack or stroke, a clot can starve the heart or brain of blood and oxygen, causing irreversible damage. Further damage is caused when the clot is dislodged and blood rushes back into the heart or brain. Until now, it was unclear how the return of blood flow starts this damage.

The research shows that succinate builds up to abnormally high levels inside an organ when blood flow is limited. When the blood flow returns, the excessive build-up of succinate interacts with oxygen as the blood rushes in to the oxygen-starved tissues. This causes the release of destructive molecules which react with muscle cells in the organ, damaging them.

In the months and years after a heart attack, this damage can ultimately lead to heart failure, a debilitating condition that leaves people unable to carry out everyday tasks like washing themselves or climbing stairs.

This is an important breakthrough.

Professor Jeremy Pearson
Associate Medical Director

Professor Jeremy Pearson, our Associate Medical Director, said:

"This is an important breakthrough. By discovering a way to limit severe organ damage following a heart attack or stroke, the scientists have paved the way for translation of these results into treatments for the hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from heart attacks and stroke in the UK every year. Further research is now needed before trialling this treatment in patients.”

Dr Edward Chouchani and Victoria Bell, lead authors on this research study, have written a blog about the perseverance and team work that lead to this new discovery.

Like all the research we fund, this study relied on donations from the public.

With your help, we fund millions of pounds of research in to heart attack, including scientists like BHF Professor Steve Watson, who researches the blood clots which can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Donate now