British scientists hope to enhance fight against pulmonary arterial hypertension

15 October 2012

Scientists based in the UK have made a significant breakthrough in the fight against a rare but potentially devastating condition of high blood pressure in the lungs.

A team of researchers from the University of Sheffield, led by Dr Allan Lawrie, worked on a project to try and understand the causes of pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Following three years of extensive research, the scientists have determined that those affected by the condition could find hope if medical professionals worked on tackling a protein called TRAIL.

Dr Shannon Amoils, a research advisor at the British Heart Foundation, pointed out: "This study shows that a protein called TRAIL has a role in the disease by driving the overproduction of cells lining the lungs' blood vessels.

"This overproduction of cells is one of the factors leading to high blood pressure in the lungs."

Dr Amoils added that the research at the University of Sheffield involved the scientists blocking the path of TRAIL by using an antibody. This process resulted in the high cell turnover being substantially dampened and the severity of pulmonary arterial hypertension being reduced.

"There is still a long way to go, but the hope is that the TRAIL antibody might be developed into a new treatment for patients in the future," Dr Amoils went on to state.

Pulmonary arterial hypertension is a serious medical condition which can be categorised by abnormally high blood pressure – otherwise known as hypertension - in the pulmonary artery of a person's body.

The severity of the disease is underlined by the fact that the pulmonary artery is the blood vessel that carries oxygen-poor blood from the heart towards the lungs.

As a result of this process, blood can take up much-needed oxygen when travelling around the lungs and then return to the heart before being transported around the body.

The issue of pulmonary arterial hypertension occurs as the condition gives these important arteries less space in which to stretch, thus causing the heart to work harder to pump the oxygen-poor blood towards the lungs. However, the heart will begin to work less effectively if it has to do a much harder job over a long period of time.

People have many symptoms to look out for if they fear they are developing the disease, the main one being constant bouts of breathlessness. Regular dizziness, feeling faint, chest pain – especially when exercising – and swelling of the feet and ankles are also telling warning signs.

Dr Amoils underlined that pulmonary arterial hypertension "can have a devastating effect on people's quality of life and is often fatal" and more needs to be done to increase the fight against the condition.

At the moment, treatment for the disease is split into three distinct categories – conventional therapy, targeted therapy and surgery.

Most people will be treated via a combination of the former two categories, though surgery may be prescribed if the case of pulmonary arterial hypertension is too severe for the therapies to have any lasting effect on one's health.

Despite these three categories, Dr Amoils believes that those in the medical industry "need to find new treatments for people with pulmonary arterial hypertension". The research carried out at the University of Sheffield may possibly provide a huge step to fulfilling this request.

Posted by Edward Bartel


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