Prof Paolo Madeddu, University of Bristol
Summary: In most cases, a heart attack happens when a coronary artery becomes blocked and the resulting lack of blood supply to the heart muscle can lead to a damaged heart. One of the treatments for heart attack is coronary artery bypass surgery. This uses blood vessels from the leg, or elsewhere in the body, to bypass the blocked artery and improve blood flow to the heart muscle. This is invasive and major surgery, with a long recovery time. Professor Madeddu and his team have been studying new ways to improve blood supply to the heart muscle after a heart attack.
Earlier research by Prof Madeddu’s team showed that cells which surround blood vessels, called pericytes, can stimulate the growth of new blood vessels. This follow-on project provides important new information about the mechanisms involved and demonstrates that the hormone ‘leptin’ has a central role. Leptin is produced by fat cells and helps to regulate energy balance in the body by inhibiting the appetite.
The research, published in Scientific Reports, showed that pericytes produced 40-times more leptin when exposed to low levels of oxygen and that this continued until oxygen levels returned to normal. This may help tissues to build more blood vessels to increase blood flow and oxygen supply.
In the longer term this research may help in the development of an alternative treatment to major surgery for heart attack patients. It may also have implications for cancer treatment, where the growth of new blood vessels plays a central role in the growth and spread of the disease.