Myocardial infarction: how to prevent a second heart attack


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.’


Elise Dubuisson


A glance at J.-L. Balligand’s bio

Portrait de J-L Balligand

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 

Portrait de Christophe Beauloye

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

Published on February 10, 2017