27 February 2019

A new technique has uncovered the key role played by free radicals in blood clotting, British researchers have reported.

Free radicals are unstable molecules containing unpaired single electrons seeking to pair up, making them highly reactive. Amongst other unwanted effects, free radicals play a role in the build-up of blood clots, which in turn are considered a key driver in the development of a range of conditions.

The new technique combines electron paramagnetic resonance, which detects free radicals, with blood cell aggregometry, which measures blood clotting.

Being able to study the role of free radicals in blood clotting paves the way for a better understanding of thrombosis, as well as normal haemostasis. It could help scientists develop new ways to prevent and treat disorders of the heart and circulatory system.

The researchers have so far tested their technique on platelets from mice and those donated by humans. One key finding from their paper, published in the journal Haematologica, is that the enzymes NADPH oxidases are critically important for the generation of free radicals, the stimulation of blood clotting and the promotion of blood vessel damage in patients.

Dr Giordano Pula from University of Exeter, who led the study, said: “We're really excited to discover this new technique and its potential to understand how blood vessel diseases develop. For the first time, we can now simultaneously measure blood clotting and the formation of free radicals.

“We know they play a key role in blood vessel damage caused by ageing, diabetes, obesity and chronic inflammation. We're currently using this technique in our efforts to develop a new treatment to protect the blood vessels in diseases such as heart diseases, stroke, obesity, and vascular dementia.”

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which funded the study, said: “Dr Pula has developed an improved method to investigate part of the blood clotting process which focuses on the ways in which platelets from blood samples clump together.

“This method may be useful for future studies looking into new anti-platelet treatments for diseases, such as diabetes, where clotting is disturbed and increases the risk of heart attack or stroke.” 

Source: Vara, D., Cifuentes-Pagano, E., Pagano, P.J., Pula, G. (2019) “A novel combinatorial technique for simultaneous quantification of oxygen radicals and aggregation reveals unexpected redox patterns in the activation of platelets by different physiopathological stimuli”, Haematologica, available from doi: 10.3324/haematol.2018.208819


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