Scientists at the University of Leicester are investigating a novel technique that promises to protect heart muscle from life-threatening damage following a heart attack - simply by squeezing an arm. Heart attacks are the major cause of premature death in England, with massive implications for survival and costs of long-term health care.

A new technique called conditioning is being investigated by Dr Sadat Edroos, a postgraduate researcher from the University's Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, to determine its effectiveness at protecting the heart of people with cardiovascular disease. This technique promises to reduce the damage to the heart that occurs after a heart attack by as much as a quarter. This would have significant beneficial implications for patients' long term survival and wellbeing.

The method of conditioning is based on the observation that temporarily stopping the blood supply to a muscle makes it resistant to further damage. However protection from one muscle may be transferred elsewhere through the blood stream to another. Squeezing an arm for a few minutes can shield the heart, reducing the extent of damage after a heart attack. "We hope to shed light on this safe and effective therapy," said Dr Sadat Edroos, "helping it to benefit patients."

"This work, in conjunction with other studies published in the past two years, is creating a compelling argument for the application of this technique to clinical use. I hope that by the end of the decade this simple, cheap, safe and effective tool will be in use across the country."

Dr Edroos' investigations, which are funded by the newly established NIHR Biomedical Research Unit in Cardiovascular Disease, will also include studies of the potential benefit of this treatment in patients who have diabetes or high cholesterol, as these are at higher risk of damage to the heart. He will also look at the differences between men and women as early results suggest there may be gender differences in the response to this treatment.

Dr Edroos' PhD supervisor, in the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, Dr Glenn Rodrigo added:

"At Leicester we have strong basic science cardiovascular research groups, focusing on mechanism to protect the heart muscle. Dr Edroos' study will integrate this laboratory-based research with the substantial clinical research carried out at the Leicester Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit at Glenfield General Hospital, to develop a strategy for protecting the muscle of the heart in patients during a heart attack.

"This has the potential to limit injury to the heart, thereby reducing the incidence of heart failure, a major cause of morbidity and death in the UK."

This research is being presented at the Festival of Postgraduate Research on Thursday, 16 June. The annual one-day exhibition of postgraduate research offers organisations and the public the opportunity to meet the next generation of innovators and cutting-edge researchers. More than 50 University of Leicester students will explain the real world implications of their research in an engaging and accessible way. The event is open to the public and free to attend. More information here.

University of Leicester