Blood vessel growth study to help fight heart disease

27 November 2017        

Category: Research

Scientists at the University of East Anglia are studying the formation of blood vessels to help improve the treatment of heart attacks.

 an image showing the veins of a mouse

An image showing the retinal vasculature of a mouse. Endothelial cells, which line the inside of blood vessels are shown in green whilst red highlights their nuclei.

The growth of new blood vessels - or angiogenesis – is essential to establish a blood supply in tissue that has been damaged by disease, such as a heart attack. However, important processes behind blood vessel growth are not completely understood. 

In order to investigate, Dr Stephen Robinson has been awarded £180,000 by the BHF to study three proteins which are believed to play a key role in angiogenesis.

The proteins help special cells that form the inner lining of blood vessels (endothelial cells) move through the body to sites where new blood vessels are needed.

Previous research has shown that two of the proteins, alpha5 and beta3, seem to play a ‘tug-of-war’ with a third protein neuropilin-1, to control angiogenesis, and unless their battle is in balance new vessels will not form properly.

Speed-up repair

To study what is happening Dr Robinson will use genetically modified mice to learn the precise role that the different proteins play. Understanding in detail how they interact could reveal ways to manipulate the process. This might allow scientists to develop a treatment which could speed-up or promote blood vessel formation and help the repair of damaged heart tissue.   

Dr Stephen Robinson said: “Multiple proteins drive angiogenesis, but their individual contributions to the process remain unclear.

“In this project we will explore how altering the balance of three proteins influences the development of blood vessels. 

“This will allow us to build an understanding of the role they play and potentially identify ways that they can be influenced to stimulate heart tissue repair.”

Future treatments

Dr Shannon Amoils, Senior Research Adviser at the BHF, said: “Dr Robinson’s work will help give us a detailed analysis of how these proteins work together to orchestrate the formation of new blood vessels. And the findings could underpin the future development of new treatments.  

“Research projects like this, which aims to answer important questions about how the heart and circulation, are only possible because of the public’s generosity. 

“Without that support it would not be possible to fund the science that will enable us to find new ways to treat, prevent and cure heart disease.”

In the UK there are nearly 200,000 hospital visits each year due to heart attacks: the equivalent of one every three minutes. An estimated 915,000 people alive in the UK today have survived a heart attack. Most deaths from coronary heart disease are caused by a heart attack.