“For people with heart disease, in the morning just before getting out of bed, an increase in heart rate together with other changes in the blood stream, results in an activation of cells in the blood stream. This leads to the formation of small clots which may lead to blockage of the blood vessels resulting in heart attack or stroke,” says Lead Researcher Dr Jesmond Dalli from Queen Mary’s William Harvey Research Institute.
In a study of healthy participants and those with cardiovascular disease, Dr Dalli and his team found that resolvins – a substance made by our immune cells from an omega-3 fatty acid – are important in controlling blood cells and protecting the body from inflammation in immune cells. Resolvins peaked in healthy volunteers in the mornings, but much less was present in those with cardiovascular disease.
When the researchers increased the levels of resolvins in the blood from patients with cardiovascular disease, they found that this improved the behaviour of cells reducing the likelihood of blood vessel inflammation.
“We were surprised to discover that a small group of molecules from an essential fatty acid, previously thought not to have any clinical importance, actually appears to control this vital cell activation process. This helps us to understand how cardiovascular disease may occur, and uncover potential new ways to identify, treat and prevent it,” adds Dalli.
Dr Dalli and his team now hope to create slow-release capsules of resolvins, which could be taken before bed to increase the level of this substance in the blood when patients wake up the following morning, reducing the risk of heart attacks: “If we can add back the resolvins, we can take these life-threatening aggregates away,” he says.
Our funding of £495,000 helped Dr Dalli to set up the Lipidomics Unit, purchasing the equipment that has allowed this study to take place. Other funding came from the European Research Council, Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland.