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Like father like son?

Heart attacks kill more than 100,000 people annually in the UK and cost the NHS more than £3billion every year.

Scientists know that heredity plays an important role in causing heart attacks. However the exact genetic mechanisms that transmit the risk of heart attacks from generation to generation still elude them.

A research project at the University of Leicester employs state-of-the-art molecular technology to map genetic patterns in healthy young men with a strong family history of heart attacks.

Blood samples were collected from two groups of healthy young men – those with and without a history of heart attacks in the family. Proteins were then added to the blood samples to simulate the changes that occur within blood vessels at the time of a heart attack.

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This activated cells known as monocytes, which have a central role in the build up of cholesterol and subsequent narrowing of blood vessels which lead on to heart attacks. The group tested whether such activation would reveal genetically inherited mechanisms in monocytes that increase the risk of heart attacks.

The cell nucleus is the control centre containing genes which instruct protein building units within cells. Genetic information is released from the nucleus in packages called messenger RNA (mRNA). Such messengers were intercepted within monocytes and the messages which regulate monocyte function were ‘read’. This allowed the team to focus on ‘spelling errors’ in the genes which may contribute to heart attacks.

Postgraduate researcher Unni Krishnan, who is working on the project, commented: “Identification of genetic variations which increase the risk of heart attacks is an important strategy in tackling this major health-economic burden. Further research into specific molecular mechanisms and functional pathways may help us to find new ways to reduce the risk of heart attacks and improve treatment strategies.”

Unni Krishnan is a specialist trainee in cardiology who is currently pursuing a higher degree (MD) focusing on the molecular mechanisms underlying the genetic risk of myocardial infarction. He is employed on a project grant from the EU (Bloodomics) which investigates the role of platelets and monocytes in coronary artery disease.

The research is being presented to the public at the University of Leicester on Thursday 26th June. The Festival of Postgraduate Research introduces employers and the public to the next generation of innovators and cutting-edge researchers, and gives postgraduate researchers the opportunity to explain the real world implications of their research to a wide ranging audience.

More information about the Festival of Postgraduate Research is available at:

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