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Friday, 14 July, 2000, 00:56 GMT 01:56 UK
Heart attack treatment advance
Heart attack
Imaging may lead to better heart attack drugs
Doctors have developed a way to pinpoint the areas of cell death in the hearts of patients who have suffered heart attacks.

The breakthrough could lead to new drugs that stop the damage to cells that occurs after a heart attack.

During a heart attack, the blood supply to part of the heart is cut off.

Hopefully this understanding may contribute to the future development of new treatments for heart attacks

British Heart Foundation

When blood flow is restored, heart cells in this area sometimes undergo a "suicide" process known as apoptosis or programmed cell death.

This causes permanent damage to the tissues.

A team from University Hospital Maastricht, Netherlands, used a radioactive substance and an imaging technique known as single-photon-emission computed tomography (SPECT) to highlight heart cells undergoing apoptosis in seven patients who had just had a heart attack.

Impact of drugs

Lead researcher Dr Leo Hofstra said the new technique would enable doctors to measure the impact of drugs designed to reduce cell death.

It would also help to tailor treatments to individual patients.

The imaging technique highlights a cell protein called Annexin V which is associated with the process of apoptosis.

Cells die following a heart attack

The British Heart Foundation issued a statement welcoming the research.

It said: "Cell chemistry is a complex science that can reveal important information about how an organ works and what is happening to it.

"Annexin V is a cell protein associated with cell death but it is not known whether it occurs in the final stages of cell death or is an earlier part of the process.

"Although this new visualisation technique is unlikely to change current treatments for heart attacks it furthers our understanding of how cell death occurs.

"Hopefully this understanding may contribute to the future development of new treatments for heart attacks."

The research is published in The Lancet medical journal.

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