The emergence of new blood vessels, called ‘angiogenesis,’ is an essential process occurring both in health and disease. It is involved in the repair of tissues following injury but also has a significant role in the growth and spread of cancer.
The Heart Research UK-funded project analyzed how pericytes promote the growth of new blood vessels and the role of leptin and present essential new information about the mechanisms involved.
One of the latest treatments for heart attack is coronary artery bypass surgery. That uses blood vessels from the leg, or in other places in the body, to avoid the obstructed artery and improve blood flow to the heart muscle. This is intrusive and major surgery, with a long recovery time. In the long run, these discoveries may help in the growth of an alternative treatment to major surgery for heart attack sufferers.
Importantly, the team discovered that pericytes produced 40-times more leptin when subjected to low levels of oxygen and that this persisted until oxygen levels returned to normal. This may facilitate tissues to build more blood vessels to increase blood flow and oxygen supply. Together with other discoveries, the research reveals that leptin has some significant actions which promote new blood vessel growth in areas where tissues are lacking oxygen.
In most cases, a heart attack is when a coronary artery becomes clogged, and the resulting lack of blood flow to the heart muscle can lead to a damaged heart. Professor Madeddu’s team has revealed that by invigorating the growth of new blood vessels, pericytes have the chance to restore blood supply to damaged heart muscle after a heart attack.
Paolo Madeddu, Professor of Experimental Cardiovascular Medicine from the School of Clinical Sciences, who leads the project at the Bristol Heart Institute, said: “These new findings could have significant implications for the treatment of heart attacks, which is when a main coronary artery gets clogged, but also cancer. These results show a new signaling mechanism that may have a broad and significant impact on regenerative heart medicine.
“Increasing leptin in pericytes in a damaged heart might help it to heal faster, whereas obstructing the production of leptin in cancerous pericytes might deprive the tumor of nutrients and force it to reduce.”
Barbara Harpham, Chief Executive of Heart Research UK, added: “This translational research project is an excellent example of research that aims to benefit patients immediately. Professor Madeddu and the team have made some relevant discoveries. Comprehending 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.”