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New discovery about platelets could help save lives

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Researchers at the University of Reading have made a remarkable discovery about how of blood clots are formed that could lead to the development of new drugs for cardiovascular diseases. Statistics show that cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, hypertension, angina pectoris, and other conditions, are responsible for over 200 000 deaths each year in the UK . Most of these deaths are due to complications of cardiovascular disease which involves blocking the blood vessels that carry blood to the heart or brain by blood clots.

The study on how  blood clots are formed is based on an amazing discovery made last year by researchers at the University’s Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research ( ICMR ), when it was found how platelets communicate with each other. It should be noted that platelets play an important role in homeostasis, ie stop bleeding. This is the role of platelets in normal conditions, but there are also situations when an inadequate platelet activation could lead to the formation of clots in the bloodstream; this could lead to heart attack or stroke, which can be fatal.

There are several drugs that are used in patients with heart disease to decrease the risk of thrombosis like aspirin or clopidogrel. However, there are patients in whom these drugs are not effective and in addition there is a risk of side effects among which the most important is bleeding.

New discovery about platelets could help save lives

A team of researchers led by Professor Jonathan Gibbins and Dr Sakthivel Vaiyapuri investigated how platelets form blood clots and found that they communicate through gap junctions. Gap junctions are pore-like structures that allows direct communication. Researchers already knew that these gap junctions connect cells ( all sorts of other cells, epithelial cells , etc. ) but their discovery in platelets was an unexpected.

According to Professor Gibbins, understanding the mechanism of formation of blood clots and thrombosis may lead to the discovery of drugs that could save lives. Effective antithrombotic therapies could be developed if the molecules that control these channels would be discovered. In this way heart attack or stroke could be prevented. Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the BHF , which funded the study, said that antiplatelet drugs are widely used in patients with coronary heart disease to prevent heart attack and stroke. He added that Professor Gibbins’ s discovery offers the opportunity to develop new drugs that reduce the risk of thrombosis. But further studies are needed to see which are the signals that occur during this communication and how they control the ability of platelets to form clots.