UK scientists make important blood clot discovery

Thousands of lives could be saved every year, scientists believe, following a breakthrough in the understanding of heart disease.
By Martin Beckford, Health Correspondent 12:01AM GMT 17 Mar 2011

Researchers have discovered that a protein known to regulate cholesterol is also linked to the formation of the type of blood clot known as thrombosis that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

They believe that by developing drugs that can control the important protein, called LXR, they will be able to prevent thrombosis and also control cholesterol levels.

It could help the fight against heart and circulatory diseases, which kill 191,000 people a year in Britain – accounting for one in three deaths in the country.
Professor Jon Gibbins, Director of Reading University’s Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research, who led the research, said: “While blood clotting is essential to prevent bleeding, inappropriate clotting within the circulation, known as thrombosis, is the trigger for heart attacks and strokes – which kill more people in the UK each year than any other disease.

“This ground-breaking study paves the way for new and more effective medicines to prevent thrombosis.”

The new paper, published in the journal Blood, details how scientists discovered the “double life” of the protein LXR in cardiovascular disease.

It was already known that the protein regulates levels of blood cholesterol, which can narrow blood vessels and increase the risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.

But it now appears that LXR also inhibits the function of blood cells called platelets, which can cause blood clots when they accumulate and so also trigger heart attacks.

In the study, funded by the British Heart Foundation and Heart Research UK, the researchers targeted the protein in mice with experimental drugs.

They found that the treatment allowed small clots to form but acted quickly to inhibit their formation by about 40 per cent, preventing them from blocking blood vessels and so potentially triggering a heart attack.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Both anti-clotting and cholesterol-lowering drugs are vital in reducing the chance of a heart attack or stroke in high-risk patients, but are not always effective and don’t suit all patients because of the risk of side-effects.

“This exciting discovery by Professor Gibbin’s team shows that drugs which lower cholesterol through targeting LXR protein can also reduce harmful blood clotting – potentially opening up paths towards new, more effective treatments.”

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