Queen’s University scientists make ‘important discovery’ to help heart disease patients

Dr Karla O'Neill at work in the lab
Dr Karla O'Neill at work in the lab
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Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast have made an “important discovery” that shows cells produced in the human body can be used to repair damaged blood vessels.

The research, funded by the charity British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland and published in the journal Cardiovascular Research, could open the door to new ways to treat heart attack and stroke victims.

The Belfast-based scientists discovered that increasing levels of a protein, known as NOX4, in a specific type of blood cell can increase the formation of new blood vessels.

The newly discovered process could be used to treat “many conditions associated with decreased blood delivery in key organs”, including heart failure after a heart attack, diabetes, and some types of stroke, the British Heart Foundation said.

Professor David Grieve and Dr Karla O’Neill, who are both based at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine, led the research project.

Dr O’Neill said: “Blood vessels are a critical component of the circulatory system supplying blood containing oxygen and nutrients to vital organs such as the heart and brain. Growing and repairing these vessels is a major goal in treating heart and circulatory diseases.

“This finding could pave the way for new discoveries in regenerative medicine and allow scientists in the future to grow new functional blood vessels and repair those that are damaged in many forms of heart and circulatory diseases.”

Fearghal McKinney, head of the British Heart Foundation NI, said: “We are delighted that our grant which was awarded to Professor David Grieve and his team, which includes Dr O’Neill, allowed them to make such an important discovery.”