Study finds how cells reverse tissue damage caused by heart attack

Scientists from the University Bristol have found out how cells surrounding blood vessels are able to trigger the growth of new blood vessels. The study on the growth of new blood vessels could be critical in the development of a treatment for heart attack patients, and the study of cancer as well.

The team led Paolo Madeddu, a professor of experimental cardiovascular medicine from the School of Clinical Sciences, at the University of Bristol, found that cells pericytes stimulate angiogenesis or new blood vessel growth. Angiogenesis is important in the repair of tissues after an injury or a heart attack but it is also essential in the spread of cancer.

Prof. Paolo Madeddu

The Heart Research UK-funded project studied how pericytes encourage the growth of new blood vessels and the role of leptin and provides important new information about the mechanisms involved.  Leptin is a hormone that is produced by fat cells. It helps regulate energy balance in the body by inhibiting appetite.

The team’s findings were published in Scientific Reports of the journal Nature.

“This new discovery could have important implications for the treatment of heart attacks, which is when a main coronary artery gets blocked, but also cancer,” said Madeddu, who leads the ho leads the project at the Bristol Heart Institute. “These results reveal a new signaling mechanism that may have a far-reaching and significant impact on cardiovascular regenerative medicine.”

“Increasing leptin in pericytes in a damaged heart might help it to heal faster, whereas blocking the production of leptin in cancerous pericytes might starve the tumour of nutrients and force it to shrink,” Madeddu added.

A typical treatment for heart attacks is coronary artery bypass surgery. In this procedure, doctors take blood vessels from a patient’s leg or other parts of the body and use it to bypass the blocked artery and allow blood to flow to the heart muscle.

The surgery is invasive. Patients also undergo a long recovery time.

Findings of the University of Bristol team may be instrumental in the development of an alternate treatment.

Madeddu and fellow researcher found that pericyte produces 40 times more leptin when they are exposed to low levels of oxygen. The production of leptin continues until oxygen levels return to normal.

Their research also shows that leptin has several important actions which encourage new blood vessel growth in areas deprived of oxygen.

In most heart attack cases, a coronary artery becomes blocked. This cuts down the supply of blood to the heart and leads to heart damage.

By stimulating the growth of new blood vessels, pericytes have the potential to restore blood supply to a damaged heart muscle following a heart attack.

“This translational research project is a good example of research that aims to benefit patients as soon as possible,” said Barbara Harpham, chief executive of Heart Research UK, “Understanding more about the processes involved may help pave the way for the development of new treatments for heart attacks which could replace coronary bypass operations.”

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