Peripheral artery disease research

What is peripheral artery disease?

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition affecting the arteries carrying oxygen-rich blood from your heart to different parts of the body. It happens when these arteries become narrowed by a build-up of fatty material within their walls. PAD usually affects the legs causing leg pain when walking.

When the blood vessels become very narrow the body can’t deliver enough nutrients and oxygen to the skin and soft tissues. This leads to persistent pain, ulcers and at its worst gangrene, a condition known as critical limb ischaemia (CLI). Rapid treatment to open up or bypass the blocked vessel is needed to try and restore the blood supply to the limb to avoid amputation.

Find out more about the symptoms and causes of peripheral artery disease. 

BOLD research

BHF Senior Fellow Mr Bijan Modarai and other BHF-funded researchers at King’s College London and St Thomas’ Hospital are investigating an imaging technique to accurately assess whether surgery to a limb affected by PAD has been successful.

Their new magnetic resonance scanning technique, called BOLD MRI, maps the blood delivered to the leg muscle straight after a surgical procedure. This innovative scan can immediately help to show the effectiveness of the treatment and indicate whether further surgery is needed. Previously, the only way to determine the success of surgery was to wait for a few days to see whether the leg improved. The new BOLD MRI scan could potentially reduce the number of people having to undergo further life changing surgery or amputation.

Injectable cell treatments for Peripheral artery disease

Mr Modarai and his team are also looking at how they can encourage new blood vessels to grow to replace blocked blood vessels in PAD. They are looking at stem cells and some white blood cells, which have been shown to promote new blood vessel growth and circulate in higher numbers in people with CLI. If these cells could be directed to the site of blood vessel blockage, the researchers believe they could help new blood vessels grow and reroute blood flow. Mr Modarai and his team have managed to collect these cells from the bloodstream in people with CLI and inject them into the affected leg safely. But there’s still more work to do. The researchers need to find ways to make sure the injected cells stay healthy and remain located in the affected area.