Dundee scientists to study new way to protect heart attack damage

23 January 2017        

Category: Research

A person clasping their hands over their heart

Researchers at the Universities of Dundee and Glasgow are to investigate new ways to protect heart muscle from injury after a heart attack, thanks to a grant from the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

A team of investigators led by Dr Will Fuller in Dundee has been awarded £161,187 to test a drug that may help to reduce muscle damage to the heart caused when the blood vessels become blocked and the amount of oxygen delivered to the heart falls. 

When the blood supply to the heart muscle is interrupted, as it is during a heart attack, damage is caused by toxic chemicals that are produced inside the muscle cells. Enzymes exist within the heart to neutralise these chemicals, but there is not sufficient capacity to do this during a heart attack.

This two-year study will evaluate a specific drug which switches on the genes that allow these ‘protective’ enzymes to be released, to find out if switching on the enzymes can reduce the damage caused to the heart by reduced oxygen supply during a heart attack. 

Reducing damage

Each year in Scotland, almost 26,000 people go to hospital with a heart attack, and they are the cause of around 7,000 deaths. There are more than 100,000 people alive in Scotland today who have survived a heart attack. 

Dr Will Fuller said: “The drug we’re investigating is well understood already. We know that the enzymes this drug switches on will protect the heart, so we are really optimistic that the experiments we have planned in the next two years will show we can reduce the damage to the heart during a heart attack."

"That makes this a really exciting project to be involved in, because we might be only a few years from a new treatment for a heart attack, which could help transform the lives of people afflicted by coronary artery disease.”

The drug being tested is currently in clinical trials for pulmonary hypertension but this study will investigate if it can be repurposed to treat heart attack.

Dr Fuller’s grant is the first in Scotland from the BHF’s Translational Awards scheme, which aims to accelerate the rate at which promising innovations in the lab can deliver benefits to patients.

Improving treatment

James Cant, Director of BHF Scotland, said: “Every month, hundreds of families across Scotland are devastated by coronary heart disease, which remains our single biggest killer. Pioneering research like this project at the University of Dundee is vital to developing new treatments, so we’re delighted to fund Dr Fuller’s work.

“Thanks to our supporters, universities in Scotland have been at the forefront of improving treatment for heart patients here and around the world. Their donations make it possible for us to fund studies like this, with the potential to transform the treatment of heart disease.”

We are the largest independent funder of cardiovascular research in Scotland with £63 million invested in research at Scottish universities.