Free radicals shown to protect the heart
Posted on 06/10/2010
Scientists at King’s College London have discovered that some ‘free radicals’ protect the heart, providing a possible reason why trials of antioxidant therapies for heart disease have so far failed.
Researchers discovered that in mice, chemically-reactive molecules - normally thought to be damaging for the body - may in fact help the heart adapt to chronic stress, preventing heart failure.
Heart failure occurs when the heart can’t adapt to chronic conditions that put pressure on the organ, such as high blood pressure or heart attacks. More than 700,000 in the UK are living with heart failure, which can be debilitating and has a poor prognosis.
The research, funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), showed that some examples of highly-reactive molecules known as ‘reactive oxygen species’, which include free radicals, had protective effects.
BHF Professor, Ajay Shah, who led the study at King’s College London, said: 'The bad reputation of free radicals has led many to believe that antioxidants – which mop them up – could be beneficial for heart health. But trials of non-specific antioxidant therapies have failed to show benefits. Our discovery could partly explain why.
'In fact, some of these reactive molecules act as signals to promote protective pathways. We need to develop targeted therapies that remove damaging free radicals or promote the protective ones.'
The team at the King’s College London BHF Centre of Research Excellence investigated the effects of Nox4, an enzyme that produces reactive oxygen species in the heart. They tested the effects of Nox4 on the heart by engineering mice that lacked Nox4, and those that over-produced it.
They found that the mice with extra Nox4 adapted much better to stress, protecting the heart from becoming enlarged or failing.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the BHF, said: 'Heart failure is a debilitating condition with inadequate treatments. Teasing out the heart’s natural defence mechanisms through research is vital for developing more effective treatments and improving life for those affected.'
The research is published this week in the journal PNAS.
Notes to editors
King's College London
King's College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (2010 QS international world rankings), The Sunday Times 'University of the Year 2010/11' and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has nearly 23,000 students (of whom more than 8,600 are graduate students) from nearly 140 countries, and some 5,500 employees. King's is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.
King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £450 million.
King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine, nursing and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe; no university has more Medical Research Council Centres.
King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners. King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit: www.kingshealthpartners.org.
Emma Reynolds, Public Relations Department
Email: email@example.com Tel: 020 7848 4334