BHF Professor Steve Professor Watson and his team study small cells in the bloodstream called platelets, which play a critical role in healthy healing processes by clumping together and forming a plug at the site of injury.
However, platelets can also clump together to form blood clots in diseased blood vessels – often causing heart attack or stroke. Many current clot-busting drugs, such as aspirin and plavix, target platelets.
The current drugs are not effective for everyone and can cause an increase in bleeding after injury. A better understanding of the pathways that control platelet activity will help us develop improved clot-busting and clot-preventing medicines.
At the site of an injury, blood vessels are punctured, exposing the tissues inside the vessel wall. As platelets in the blood pass over this injury they come into contact with a vessel wall protein called collagen, which activates them to clump together.
Professor Watson has made important contributions to the understanding of the way that collagen activates platelets. He found a key protein, called GPVI, which is now being investigated as a target for new types of clot-busting medicines for heart and circulatory disease.
Taking lessons from nature, Professor Watson has been looking at snake venoms that have evolved over millions of years to kill prey by targeting proteins on the surface of platelets.
Using his skills to benefit other areas, Professor Watson has also shown that one snake toxin, rhodocytin, activates platelets through a protein on the cell surface, CLEC-2, and that it can help HIV enter into the platelet cell, which may explain the movement of the virus around the body.
Professor Watson is studying the genes in our DNA that instruct our bodies to make platelets, and investigating details of the proteins that are essential for platelet function. He has found several new platelet proteins, some of which could potentially provide another new way to inhibit clot formation in heart disease.
Professor Watson is also investigating patients with unexplained bleeding disorders to establish whether it is abnormalities in platelet function that are to blame. As well as finding ways to help these people, this work could help unravel more clues to heart disease prevention and treatment.
Read more about our research that has helped develop heart attack treatments
Read more about Dr Yotis Senis, a talented young researcher working with Prof Watson in our booklet, Lifesaving science.