Cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death in the UK. One of the most common ways in which that manifests is through heart attacks. Clinicians treat around 100,000 patients with very large heart attacks using an emergency procedure called primary percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). While some of these patients do very well, around a third do not, and some 25,000 people die from heart attacks each year.
New research from DPAG's Herring lab shows that routine testing for the stress hormone Neuropeptide Y (NPY) in the hours after a heart attack has the potential to save thousands of lives. Lead researcher Associate Professor Neil Herring said: “Our previous research has shown that NPY is raised during a heart attack and local levels within the heart correlate with how well it recovers. What this new study adds is that high NPY levels, even when measured through a standard blood test from a vein, predict which patients go on to develop heart failure or die. This provides extremely useful information for doctors and we hope that developing drugs that target the receptors NPY acts on may really be game changing for this cohort of patients and the blood test could help spot those patients who may need it right from the start.”
In the new study, funded by the British Heart Foundation and published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers investigated the levels of NPY in the blood of 163 heart attack patients who had undergone emergency treatment to open up a blocked blood vessel. NPY, once released into the heart, causes its smallest blood vessels to narrow. Researchers found that two days after a heart attack, the smallest blood vessels in the heart remained narrowed in patients with the highest NPY levels. MRI scans carried out six months later found that such patients had more scarring in their hearts, which were thus unable to pump blood efficiently.