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£350,000 from British Heat Foundation to help University of Cambridge improve treatment after heart attacks

University of Cambridge scientists have been awarded nearly £349,477 by the British Heart Foundation to investigate how the treatment for heart attacks can be improved.

Most are currently treated with an angioplasty procedure, which quickly unblocks the coronary artery and has led to an improvement in survival rates.

Dr Thomas Krieg, of the University of Cambridge
Dr Thomas Krieg, of the University of Cambridge

But by suddenly restoring blood flow to the heart tissue - reperfusion - can cause permanent damage, as it produces a burst of free radicals. These can lead to a weakening of the heart muscle and ultimately heart failure.

Dr Thomas Kreig and his team at the Cambridge Cardiovascular research centre will use the charity’s grant to see if the release of these free radical molecules can be blocked using a drug they have developed.

Dr Krieg said: “Angioplasty is a life-saving treatment, so it is deeply frustrating for doctors that we do not yet have a therapy that can stop the heart being injured by reperfusion.

“Having identified how these damaging molecules are produced, we now want to explore the underlying mechanisms and develop new types of drugs further to see if they will also work in patients and improve their long-term survival.

“In addition, as similar types of injury occur during stroke, operations or organ transplantation these new types of drugs could be used as a treatment in many other important medical situations.”

The work will build on research by Dr Krieg exploring how the free radicals are produced, which enables the design of appropriate drugs to stop their production and release.

More than 100,000 angioplasty procedures are carried out each year in the UK. A ‘balloon’ is gently inflated to stretch the narrowed or blocked coronary artery and some patients also have a stent - a stainless steel mesh - inserted into theartery to allow blood to flow again.

Dr Tian Yu, Research Adviser at the BHF, said: “If this project is successful, it would point towards a relatively simple solution to a decades old problem. One that could improve the lives of tens of thousands of heart attack survivors each year.

“Worryingly, the ability of the BHF to fund crucial projects like this is under threat. Coronavirus had had a devastating impact on our fundraising. That’s why – together with other medical research charities – we are calling on the government to commit to a Life Sciences Charity Partnership Fund.

“This will ensure that the BHF and other charities can continue to invest in the science that produces the breakthroughs that save and improve lives.”

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