Research could improve outcomes for people at risk of dangerous blood clots

Research could offer new hope for the prevention of deep vein thrombosis

New University of Birmingham research funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) could improve treatments for a potentially deadly condition that affects tens of thousands of people in the UK each year.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in one of the deep veins, usually in the leg. It must be treated quickly, as there is a risk the clot will travel to the lungs and block a blood vessel. This is known as a pulmonary embolism and, if left untreated, can lead to death. 

There are at least 60,000 cases of DVT in the UK each year, but researchers do not completely understand what causes this condition. Current anti-clotting medication to treat the condition is relatively effective, but can increase the risk of bleeding. 

Now the BHF has awarded £630,000 fellowship funding to researchers at Birmingham for a project that could lead to new and safer therapeutic strategies to prevent the condition. 

Led by Dr Alexander Brill, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, this research will explore how large cells found close to blood vessels – known as mast cells – play their role in DVT.

In DVT, blood moves around the body slower and becomes stagnant in veins, which causes mast cells to trigger inflammation in the blood vessel wall. But what isn’t known is how mast cells are triggered by this and how this leads to inflammation. 

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have already identified that blocking the production of mast cells in mice can prevent DVT without causing any bleeding problems. 

In this new five-year project, researchers will study how these cells behave in mice further, and determine the substances these cells release to cause DVT. They will then see if mast cells are involved in human DVT, by studying them in people at various stages of the condition. 

Dr Brill said: “Our research could offer new hope for the prevention of DVT and identify medicines that could reduce the risk of bleeding. We know that medicines, which block mast cells in humans, are already used in the clinic for conditions like asthma. If we are able to show that mast cells are involved in DVT in people, we could move into clinical trials with other medicines that we already know are safe.” 

Dr Noel Faherty, Senior Research Advisor at the BHF, said: “DVT is a potentially life-threatening condition that can develop as a consequence of heart failure, or as a result of sitting or lying still for a long period - such as after surgery or during a long flight. 

“It’s important that patients are treated quickly, but current medication can lead to further complications. If this research is able to identify a new treatment target, it could pave the way for safer treatments, which will help improve the outcomes of people affected by DVT. 

“Research projects like this are only made possible by the generous funding of our supporters, who are helping us in our aim to beat the heartbreak caused by heart and circulatory conditions forever.” 

The BHF currently funds around £13 million of research at the University of Birmingham. The charity recently awarded the university a £1 million Accelerator Award to boost its ground-breaking research into heart and circulatory conditions.

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