Deep vein thrombosis research

What is deep vein thrombosis?

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in one of the deep veins of the body, usually in the leg. It affects tens of thousands of people each year in the UK, and can develop as a consequence of heart failure, or as a result of sitting or lying still for a long period - such as after surgery or during a long flight.

DVT must be treated quickly, because there’s a risk the clot will travel to the lungs and block a blood vessel, which can be life threatening. This is known as a pulmonary embolism.

We don’t completely understand what causes DVT. And current anti-clotting medication to prevent DVT increases the risk of bleeding, which may lead to a stroke in some people. Our research is vital to preventing and treating DVT safely and effectively.

How platelets play a part

We’re funding research into platelets to help explain why some people are more likely to get DVT. Platelets are the cells in blood that clump together to help form a blood clot. This is vital when you have an injury because platelets are needed to stop bleeding. However, platelets can also play a part in forming a clot inside a vein or artery, called thrombosis.

Molecules called phospholipids are found on the surface of platelets and in tiny particles that are released from platelets. They help to control how clots are formed. Researchers at Cardiff University, led by Professor Peter Collins, are studying blood samples from healthy people and people with unexplained bleeding or clotting disorders, such as DVT. They’re looking at the phospholipids found on the surface of platelets and microparticles in both groups to see if there are any key differences that could explain why some people are more prone to blood clotting disorders and some to bleeding disorders. This research could help work out who’s more prone to DVT, and reveal new ways to prevent or treat it.

A scan for the best treatment

Usually, when a DVT is diagnosed it is treated with medicines that also prevent blood clots forming, such as heparin and warfarin. But when a large clot has formed in a vein in the upper leg or abdomen, it’s sometimes treated with a clot-busting drug. However, this treatment is not always successful and can have serious side effects, like bleeding.

With funding from the BHF, Dr Alkystis Phinikaridou at King’s College London is testing if a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan could identify who will and won’t respond well to clot-dissolving treatment.

This new technique developed by her team provides detailed information about the composition of the blood clot. Patients with DVT who need clot-busting treatment and agree to take part in the study have an MRI scan before receiving treatment. The team are looking for common features between clots that do or do not respond well to clot busting drugs. This work could reveal a quick, non-invasive imaging test showing which people with DVT will respond best to different treatments - so more patients get the right treatment and a good outcome.

Can anti-allergy medicines help?

With your donations, we’re supporting BHF Professor Steve Watson to take his research into platelets and blood clotting from strength to strength. Today, his research group at the University of Birmingham is among the world’s experts in this field. They’re making important progress in understanding DVT and other dangerous clotting disorders.

Dr Alexander Brill, from the University of Birmingham, has shown that blocking the production of mast cells (a type of immune cell) in mice prevents DVT without causing bleeding problems. What’s really exciting about this research is that medicines that block mast cells in humans are already used in the clinic for conditions like asthma. If the researchers can show that mast cells are involved in DVT in people, they could move quickly into clinical trials with anti-allergy medicines we already know are safe.

Read about our successes in circulatory condition research