Novel and Emerging Technologies (NET) Grant

Prof Gillian Gray, University of Edinburgh

Amount: £88,568

Summary: This project will use ‘mass spectrometry imaging’ (MSI) to investigate whether a new drug can prevent injury to the heart after heart attack. This drug has the potential to prevent the development of heart failure following heart attack which would benefit many patients.

Heart attacks occur when the blood flow to the heart muscle is interrupted, causing damage that can weaken the heart and lead to heart failure. Professor Gray’s research group has discovered that a drug originally developed to treat obesity and diabetes also promotes repair of the heart after a heart attack and reduces the development of heart failure. It is more common to have a heart attack if the patient is obese and diabetic, so therefore the combined actions of the drug on the heart, fat and insulin make it particularly appealing.


The drug has already undergone safety tests in volunteers, so could rapidly be progressed to human trials. However, the research team first needs to show that the new drug offers benefits over existing drugs used to treat heart failure.


This project will use ‘mass spectrometry imaging’ (MSI) to look in more detail at the effects of the drug on the heart muscle. It is anticipated that this will provide unique evidence that the biochemical pathways in the heart muscle affected by the drug are distinct from those affected by drugs already used to treat heart failure.


MSI uses a laser to collect samples from slices of tissues. Levels of substances in the body like cortisol and cholesterol breakdown products, that we expect to change after a heart attack and in response to the drug, can be measured in each spot targeted by the laser and this information used to build a map of where they are found. They have already used the technique to visualise and measure activity of the enzyme targeted by the drug, in the brain, liver and kidney. The researchers will prepare thin sections of heart muscle and use the laser to capture samples from injured areas and compare these to samples from healthy areas. MSI has enormous potential for helping to understand biochemical pathways in the heart but has never been applied to heart tissue before.


This project will generate the first MSI data from heart tissue, providing vital information on the action of the drug on heart tissue, and helping to progress the drug to human trials. The new drug acts early after heart attack to prevent the spread of injury in heart muscle and therefore has the potential to benefit many patients.

Related pages