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Research findings get hearts a fluttering

Research findings get hearts a fluttering

Screening for heart attacks and strokes could be improved as a result of new research that has linked a potent antioxidant related to a class of chemicals first discovered in the wings of butterflies and now found in artery deposits.

The researchers led by Dr Steven Gieseg from the University of Canterbury's School of Biological Sciences, in collaboration with Professor Justin Roake at Christchurch Hospital's Department of Surgery, have demonstrated for the first time that an antioxidant called dihydroneopterin is present in high levels within the walls of diseased arteries. White blood cells produce this antioxidant when activated during an infection or inflammation.

Dihydroneopterin is a member of the pterin family of chemicals which were originally identified as pigments in butterfly wings. Dr Gieseg's team has shown it stops white blood cells converting cholesterol to its toxic oxidised form as well as preventing oxidised cholesterol from killing cells. Dr Gieseg says the results suggest that dihydroneopterin plays an important role in the development of the artery deposits that cause stroke and heart attacks.

This finding will allow Dr Gieseg's team to now chart the location of dihydroneopterin within the artery wall to identify changes in the antioxidant balance. Dr Gieseg says: "Though we know that heart disease is due to inflammation in the wall of an artery, we do not know the timing of the processes or how factors like blood pressure, cholesterol level or other diseases alter the mechanism. It is through understanding the mechanism that better treatments and screenings can be developed."

He says the team was not surprised to find evidence of high levels of dihydroneopterin in the arteries as they had previously found it in what he describes as the group's most disgusting but fascinating research to date. The project used human pus drained from hospital patients.

"Having published this work we are now looking forward to clearing our freezer of more than a litre of human pus samples that were supplied by Dr Andrew Laing at Christchurch Hospital.

"The research team is very grateful to the many donors of biological samples and blood for the research, and the New Zealand National Heart Foundation for funding."

The team's findings have been published internationally in the British Journal of Pharmacology, Biochimica et Biophysica Acta and Clinical Biochemistry.


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