One-quarter of the 10,000 heart attacks per year in Belgium are followed by a second one. That figure drove the Fondation Louvain (Louvain Foundation) to launch the Cardio fundraising campaign for advancing cardiovascular research.
Treating a myocardial infarction is straightforward: unblock the coronary artery so blood can again flow to the heart. More complex is keeping the patient from returning to the hospital a second time. That’s what happens to half of Belgium’s heart attack victims, while 25% actually suffer another heart attack. The figures are high because it’s still impossible to identify patients at risk of a second heart attack.
Cardio: a campaign to fuel research
Such figures spurred the Fondation Louvain to launch the Cardio campaign. Since last 2 December, the campaign has raised funds for UCL researchers to find the means to identify patients at risk of a both a first and second heart attack.
Blood platelets under the microscope
Through such fundraising, researchers hope to advance their work on biomarkers that can predict the blockage of the heart’s arteries. ‘We’re working on blood platelets in particular’, explains Dr Christophe Beauloye, head of the Cardiovascular Pathology Department at UCL’s Saint Luke University Hospital. ‘We noticed that platelets have an enzyme whose activity changes when the platelets are stimulated to form a clot in an artery. More precisely, the enzyme’s activity is blocked while the platelets form a clot. So the idea is, on one hand, to test whether the enzyme’s inactivity is an accurate indicator of the risk of a first and second heart attack, and, on the other hand, to establish a biomarker that can determine the enzyme’s state of activation.’ Doctors could then look for the biomarker to know whether the patient is at risk and act accordingly.
A closer look at lipid metabolism
UCL researchers are also looking at the metabolism of lipids to better understand the role they play in the blood platelets of at-risk patients. ‘We’re assessing how current anticoagulant therapies or treatments that prevent platelets from clotting can influence this enzyme.’ This could lead to a therapeutic approach to preventing recurring heart attacks. Indeed, being able to tap drugs already on the market is preferable to developing new ones, because it leads more rapidly to a therapeutic solution.
Between fundamental and clinical research
All of this work combines fundamental and clinical research, a combination supported by Jean-Luc Balligand, president of UCL’s Institute of Experimental and Clinical Research (IREC). ‘To obtain useful and clinically applicable results,’ he explains, ‘genuine continuity between fundamental and clinical research is crucial. Our results are the fruit of cross-fertilisation between researchers working in the clinic and those working in the laboratory. Ideas generated in one environment fuel work in the other, and it’s a two-way street.’
Still more projects
Of course, myocardial infarction is far from IREC’s sole battleground. It pursues many projects. ‘In the clinic,’ Dr Balligand says, ‘we’re working mainly on the phenotype of patients who suffer from heart diseases, with a particular focus on heart valve problems. But we’re also developing coordinated clinical and laboratory work on cardiac fibrosis, cardiac and vascular oxidative stress, and heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, which affects half of heart failure patients. In the context of these projects, we’re coordinating a European study, subsidised by the European Union, that is testing a new therapeutic approach. In our unit, more than 17 academics are leading fundamental and clinical research projects, which exert much of UCL’s influence in the field of cardiovascular research.’
A glance at J.-L. Balligand’s bio
1984 PhD, Medicine, UCL
1984-1989 Specialisation in Internal Medicine
1989-1991 Candidate, Belgian Fund for Scientific Research (FNRS)
1990- 1995 Research Fellow, then Instructor, then Assistant Professor, Cardiology Division, Brigham and Women’s Hospital,
Harvard Medical School, Boston (USA)
1997 PhD, Sciences, Higher Education Certificate, UCL
1997 - 2004 Professor, Medicine and Pharmacology, UCL
Since 2004 Full Professor, UCL
Since 2016 President, UCL Institute of Experimental and Clinical Research (IREC)
A glance at Christophe Beauloye’s bio
1996 PhD, Medicine, UCL
1998-2002 Candidate, Belgian Fund for Scientific Research (FNRS)
1996- 2004 Physician’s Assistant Candidate Specialising in Cardiology, UCL
2004 - 2005 Qualification in Intensive Care, UCL
2005-2006 Clinical Fellow, Interventional Cardiology, OLV Clinic, Aalst
Since 2006 Cardiologist, Saint Luke University Hospital, UCL
Since 2010 Research Clinician, FNRS
Since 2016 Head of Cardiology, Saint Luke University Hospital, UCL