Researchers at the University of Edinburgh are using state-of-the-art techniques to identify genes that could help the heart to repair itself after a heart attack.
Every month in Scotland, there are more than 2,000 hospital visits due to a heart attack, which happens when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked, cutting off the blood flow to the heart muscle. During a heart attack, if the blood supply isn’t quickly restored, the heart muscle can become permanently damaged, which can lead to heart failure.
Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump blood around the body as efficiently as it should. Although the symptoms can usually be managed with medication and lifestyle changes, there is currently no cure. Over time, heart failure can lead to extremely debilitating symptoms such as breathlessness, fluid retention and fatigue.
Dr Mairi Brittan, pictured with her team, received an award of just over £500,000 from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to establish her own laboratory at the University of Edinburgh. The funding has allowed her to bring together a team of scientists from different backgrounds, and is a truly international collaboration. Researchers from Scotland, China, France, Greece and South Africa have been working to understand the built-in pathways through which the heart can regrow new blood vessels following a heart attack, in order to restore blood supply to injured heart muscle. This strategy may limit or repair the damage done during a heart attack and may therefore prevent progression to heart failure.
In a recent study published in the European Heart Journal, Dr Brittan’s group have identified groups of genes active in cells that have a role in blood vessel regeneration, creating a comprehensive atlas of new gene targets which may play a role in the formation of new blood vessel networks following heart attack.
Dr Brittan explains: “Heart failure can be a distressing condition for patients and their families but it is becoming increasingly common with an ageing population and more people surviving after a heart attack. Our study used cutting-edge techniques to identify the genes that could ultimately help to regenerate the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle.
“We already know that other animals, like the zebrafish, can repair their heart muscle, and that’s what we want to be able to replicate in humans, enhancing the body’s own ability to regenerate tissues to repair the heart from within.
“We’re now working to develop this project and to further study the new gene targets that we have identified with a view to eventually moving towards clinical studies.”
46,000 people in Scotland living with heart failure
James Cant, Director of BHF Scotland, said: “There are currently around 46,000 people across Scotland living with heart failure that can’t be cured, so finding a way to reduce or actually repair heart muscle damage would be massively important. We’re delighted to be funding this exciting, innovative research at the University of Edinburgh that has the potential to improve and save lives, helping us towards our goal of beating heartbreak forever.”
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