Bristol team seeks solution for blocked heart bypass artieries

The researchers from the Bristol Heart Institute at the University of Bristol have been given funding of over £130,000 from the charity for their work into preventing the future failure of coronary artery vein grafts which are used in surgery.

Sections of leg vein are frequently used in heart bypass surgery to get around blocked coronary arteries and improve blood supply to the damaged heart. However, these vein grafts often become narrowed in the months and years following surgery and eventually fail just like the patient’s original coronary arteries did.

Failure of these grafts affects around half of patients within ten years of surgery which is not only a problem for those needing further treatment, but also has huge cost implications for the NHS.   New treatments to prevent vein graft failure would therefore bring great health and cost benefits.

Using a combination of techniques, the Bristol team will assess whether gene therapy can be used to produce a protein in the cells which will selectively kill only active cells in the vein graft, thereby preventing the narrowing of the vein and subsequent future graft failure.

In clinical terms the process will enable the vein to be treated with the gene cells before it is used in surgery to bypass the heart, and it is hoped that the research will show how this could prevent future blockages happening.

The Bristol team are world-leaders in research into the failure of coronary artery vein grafts, and their current research work follows on from an earlier Heart Research UK-funded study.  So far Heart Research UK has funded over £330,000 into the Bristol research work into failing vein grafts. 

Earlier HRUK-funded work by Professor George’s team focussed on a specific biochemical pathway involved in the thickening of blood vessel linings.

This prior research provided direct evidence that two particular proteins in this pathway play key roles in the process of thickening that leads to failure of vein grafts. That earlier research has provided an important foundation for this new HRUK-funded study which will use gene therapy to selectively target only those cells in which the pathway has been activated.

If successful, this new approach could also benefit patients undergoing graft surgery for blocked arteries in the legs, which is an important problem particularly in the rising numbers of diabetic patients.

Sarah George, Professor in Cardio-Vascular Signalling at the Bristol Heart Institute, said: “I have been looking into vein graft failure for over 20 years now and this latest grant means we can take this work to the next level and start translating it from the laboratory to the patient.  The overall aim is to stop blockages happening using gene therapy and we hope it might also be applied to other diseases as well.  I know very well how hard people work to raise this money so this grant from Heart Research UK is much appreciated and without it we would not be able to continue this work.”

Barbara Harpham, National Director of Heart Research UK said: “In the last ten years we have paid for nearly £820,000 medical research in Bristol. This new grant is important because it builds on the promising results from Prof George’s previous Heart Research UK grant and could, ultimately, bring big benefits for by-pass patients by ensuring that vein grafts last for longer.  Without our supporters, raising money for us throughout the year, this just would not be possible.

“Any money raised in Bristol, will be spent there.  We’ve got our annual Sing for your Heart fund raising events in December to get the city into the festive spirit, but even people organising a coffee morning or tombola would be great.”

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