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Funding for research to optimise heart attack treatment

Researchers have been granted £153k in funding from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to the damage caused to the smallest vessels of the heart following a heart attack.

The three-year study will be led by Dr Neena Kalia of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Cardiovascular Science and aims to optimise treatment for patients.

Researchers at the University have developed a state-of-the-art imaging technique, which was funded by a previous BHF grant. This particular microscopy technique allows them to look in detail at microvessels in the beating heart. Microvessels are so small that they cannot be seen when using standard scans for heart conditions, such as an angiogram or echocardiogram.

The BHF has now awarded £153,000 of PhD studentship funding to the University to continue the study of these tiny vessels, which play a crucial role in regulating blood supply to the heart. During a heart attack, microvessels become dysfunctional and contribute to organ damage.

The new funding will also allow researchers, using the University’s novel imaging technique, to assess the impact that a protein called IL-36 has on the heart’s microvessels following a heart attack.

Previous work by the University’s researchers has shown that this protein could play a leading role in damaging microvessels, particularly in older hearts. This is because a receptor that this protein uses, which generates its damaging effects, is found at higher levels in older hearts than in younger ones.

Using mice, the research will characterise and compare the damage that a heart attack has on the small blood vessels within young and old hearts. The study will also test human heart tissue samples from heart patients to determine whether IL-36 and its receptor are present. Dr Kalia comments:

Problems with circulation in the smallest blood vessels of the body is a typical characteristic of many diseases. Our specialist imaging technique allows us to assess the larger problems these tiny vessels can cause, specifically in the heart.

Importantly, this studentship will be the first to explore the impact of ageing on the heart’s microvessels in health and post-injury. Understanding these processes and the mechanisms contributing to them is essential if we are to devise and optimise treatments that will be effective in people affected by a heart attack.