Jekyll and Hyde in the heart
Press release issued: 2 July 2003
The cause and prevention of a potential killer in the heart will be investigated by a team of scientists at Bristol University, thanks to an award of £670,000 from the British Heart Foundation.
The 'powerhouses' within heart cells are called 'mitochondria'. They provide the energy necessary for keeping the heart beating and blood pumping around the body. However, there are times when these same mitochondria can become killers, causing irreversible damage to the heart - the Jekyll and Hyde effect
As you walk uphill and your heart beats faster, the mitochondria must produce more energy to keep pace with the increase in demand. But when the heart is deprived of its blood supply, such as during a heart attack, the mitochondria can no longer provide enough energy and the heart stops beating. This may occur spontaneously when a blood clot forms in one of the heart's coronary arteries (a heart attack) or deliberately during heart surgery.
In these circumstances it is essential to restore the blood flow as soon as possible. If it takes too long, major damage to the heart can occur. The reason for this is that there is a mechanism within mitochondria that, once activated, destroys the muscle cells of the heart, leading to permanent damage. This switch from one role to another is rather like the good Dr Jekyll turning into the evil Mr Hyde.
Professor Andrew Halestrap, in the University's Biochemistry Department, said: 'Our research will be directed towards understanding the mechanisms involved in this Jekyll to Hyde conversion, and developing drugs to prevent it. If it could be prevented it would reduce the amount of damage to the heart that may occur after a heart attack or prolonged surgery. Already we have found ways of providing protection in experimental models and the hope is that these will translate into effective treatment.'
The team, which also includes Dr Elinor Griffiths, in Biochemistry, and Dr Saadeh Suleiman from the Division of Cardiac, Anaesthetic and Radiological Sciences, are members of the Bristol Heart Institute where a wide range of ground-breaking cardiovascular research is performed.
The University of Bristol's Biochemistry Department is one of only two departments in the UK awarded the top 5* research rating in the last independent Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The other department was in Cambridge. The RAE independently assesses the quality of research in all research departments of British universities. The 5* is awarded to departments recognised as having world-class status in setting the global research agenda in their fields.
The Bristol Heart Institute is a Bristol University Research Centre established in 1995. The Institute aims to foster local, national and international multi-disciplinary cardiovascular research. This is achieved by stimulating collaboration between all the cardiovascular research groups in the University of Bristol.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) funds research into all aspects of heart and circulatory disease. They currently support over 30 BHF professors and around 1,200 individual research projects. The aim is to save and improve lives.