Life or death for the heart?
Press release issued: 31 March 2008
Scientists in Bristol have been awarded over £800,000 by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to investigate the mechanisms responsible for determining whether heart cells live or die following conditions like a heart attack or cardiac surgery.
Scientists in Bristol have been awarded over £800,000 by the British Heart Foundation(BHF) to investigate the mechanisms responsible for determining whether heart cells live or die following conditions like a heart attack or cardiac surgery.
The BHF Programme five-year grant has been given to Professor Andrew Halestrap in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Bristol and the Bristol Heart Institute and colleagues Dr Elinor Griffiths and Professor Saadeh Suleiman.
Professor Halestrap’s previous work has found that mitochondria, the “power stations” of the heart, have a Jekyll-and-Hyde nature that can influence whether or not a heart cell survives following such traumas.
A human heart consists of millions of cells, and each cell contains hundreds of mitochondria that convert energy from food into chemical energy – ATP (adenosine triphosphate) - in a process that also uses oxygen. Since the heart beats over 100,000 times a day, pumping seven thousand litres of blood around the body, a healthy population of mitochondria is essential to provide the energy needed for heart contraction.
Lack of oxygen supply to the heart can prevent mitochondria producing enough ATP. Such oxygen deprivation occurs during angina, coronary thrombosis (heart attack) and during cardiac surgery, when the heart is stopped so that surgeons can operate on it. Even worse, when the blood flow to the heart is restored, mitochondria can change from being energy providers to killers that cause irreversible damage to the heart.
Calcium and “reactive oxygen” play a critical role in the bad functions of mitochondria, but calcium also plays the role of a good guy in the healthy heart, it is needed for the heart cells to beat.
Over the next five years, Professor Halestrap and colleagues will investigate the role that calcium and reactive oxygen play in the molecular mechanism of the Jekyll-to-Hyde transition of mitochondria. The ultimate aim is to develop ways of preventing the transition occurring and to find drugs that do this for use in the clinical setting.
Professor Halestrap said: “If we can elucidate the molecular mechanism responsible for this “Jekyll-to-Hyde” change in the behaviour of mitochondria, we should be able to prevent it occurring. Drugs that do this could then be used in a clinical setting to stop heart cells dying.”
Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the BHF, added: "Funding vital research like this really helps us understand, down to the tiniest detail, how our hearts work. This in turn helps researchers establish what can go wrong and how we might go about trying to combat diseases of the heart and circulatory system”.
“People all over the UK and beyond are benefiting from the contributions that BHF-funded scientists are making, helping us beat heart disease and save lives together.”
The British Heart Foundation Programme Grant was awarded to: Professor Andrew Halestrap, Dr Elinor Griffiths and Professor Saadeh Suleiman.
Title: “The role of mitochondria in the life and death of the heart.” Total awarded £834,066
More information can be found at the following websites: Department of Biochemistry
The Bristol Heart Institute, based in the Bristol Royal Infirmary, consists of over 200 researchers and clinicians in the University of Bristol and Bristol NHS Trusts. As well as improving collaboration between scientists and clinicians within the Institute, the aim is to communicate research findings to the public.