Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Scottish scientists to develop tools to stop heart attacks

heart attack chest x-ray with ECG Image copyright GJLP/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh are to lead a £1.8m project to develop a way of treating heart attacks before they happen.

Around 10,000 people in Scotland die every year when fatty deposits blocking the arteries suddenly rupture.

The British Heart Foundation-funded project will make use of new advanced scanning techniques.

The cutting-edge research would enable doctors to pinpoint people at higher risk of heart attack.

Coronary heart disease is the most common cause of death worldwide, killing one person in the UK every seven minutes, usually through heart attack.

The Edinburgh study is focused on improving detection of coronary atherothrombosis, a condition in which fatty deposits blocking the arteries - known as plaques - rupture without warning.

It is the main underlying cause of sudden heart-related death and cannot be detected by current non-invasive methods.

The project could also provide insight into conditions such as stroke and findings have the potential to save thousands of lives each year, researchers say.

Huge impact

The project's leader is David Newby, Professor of Cardiology at the University's British Heart Foundation Centre of Research Excellence.

He said: "We are delighted to have received this grant and believe it will have a huge impact on our ability to better understand heart disease.

"Heart attacks are often missed, with a third of people misdiagnosed as having non-heart chest pain later dying from heart disease.

"Better tools are desperately needed to help identify those most at risk."

The researchers aim to create new chemicals - known as tracers - to illuminate these unstable plaques in patients.

The tracers - which contain small amounts of radioactivity - are injected into the bloodstream and stick to the plaques.

This allows their detection on an imaging technique known as positron emission tomography (PET) scanning.

The project will make use of a new advanced scanner known as PET-MR - the first of its kind in Scotland - to reveal details of the heart's structure and function.

The technique has significant implications for drug discovery as it would allow researchers to monitor how coronary plaques react to medicines.

James Cant, director of the British Heart Foundation in Scotland, said: "Each year in the UK, over 100,000 people die from a heart attack or stroke that has been caused by rupture of a plaque on the inside of an artery.

"Discovering which plaques are likely to rupture is a major objective of current research.

"By funding this vital research at the University of Edinburgh, we're one step closer to being able to treat a heart attack before it happens."

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites