A research team in Switzerland has discovered the lipid responsible for killing tissue during a heart attack, raising potential for a new treatment model for heart attacks and strokes.
Heart attacks are the result of a clot that blocks the blood flow to the heart. This cuts off the oxygen supply to the heart tissue, causing the cells in the tissue to die quickly. However, some animal species appear to cope better than others with such a lack of oxygen. For example, worms can live three days and some turtles can live several months without oxygen.
In a study published in Nature Metabolism on Monday, a research team led by Howard Riezman from the University of Geneva sought to investigate why this lack of oxygen in mammals leads to the rapid death of tissue and why some animals cope better than others.
Working with worms, the researchers discovered that the damage is the result of a special fat molecule (lipid) called deoxydihydroceramide that increases to dangerous levels when there is a lack of oxygen in the tissue. The lipid blocks certain cellular functions, permanently damaging the heart tissue.
The research team included scientists at the University of Geneva, the University of Lyon and the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale in France.