Immune System Linked to Lower Heart Attack Risk, Suggests Study

Levels of antibodies within the blood could be used to assess heart attack risk


Newswise — Measuring antibody levels in the blood could be used to detect a person’s heart attack risk after researchers, part-funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), discovered that higher levels of these antibodies are linked to a lower heart attack risk.

The research, published today in the scientific journal EbioMedicine, shows a link between the amount of IgG antibodies in a person’s blood and their likelihood of being protected against an adverse cardiac event, such as a heart attack (1). IgG is the most abundant form of antibody and is found within all bodily fluids. It is responsible for protecting the body against bacterial and viral infections.

Measuring IgG – a component of the immune system – is simple and cheap, so the scientists suggest that this finding may in the future make it easier for clinicians to more accurately determine a person’s risk of having a heart attack.

Lead researcher Dr Ramzi Khamis, consultant cardiologist and Independent Clinical Research Fellow at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, said: “Linking a stronger, more robust immune system to protection from heart attacks is a really exciting finding. As well as improving the way we tell who is at the highest risk of a heart attack so that we can give them appropriate treatments, we now have a new avenue to follow in future work.

“We hope that we can use this new finding to study the factors that lead some people to have an immune system that helps protect from heart attacks, while others don’t. We also hope to explore ways of strengthening the immune system to aid in protecting from heart disease.”

Coronary heart disease is the UK's single biggest killer and the leading cause of death worldwide. The disease is responsible for nearly 70,000 deaths in the UK each year and most deaths from coronary heart disease are caused by a heart attack (2). The team at Imperial College London and University College London (UCL) studied patients who suffered a heart attack or stroke from the Anglo Scandinavian Cardiac Outcomes Trial (ASCOT) with their matched controls. People enrolled on the ASCOT trial had high blood pressure and were at high risk of a cardiovascular event.

The researchers measured levels of total IgG and IgM antibodies, as well as levels of antibodies that are particular to an oxidised form of ‘bad’ cholesterol (oxLDL), which is known to promote atherosclerosis – the build-up of fatty material in the artery walls that can lead to heart attacks.

The researchers found that the people who had higher levels of general antibodies (IgG/IgM) as well as antibodies against oxLDL were less likely to have a heart attack. Surprisingly, total IgG levels showed the strongest association with reduced heart attack risk, independent of other risk factors such as cholesterol levels or blood pressure. Professor Dorian Haskard, co-senior author and BHF Professor at Imperial College London, said:

“These very interesting findings linking the immune system to protection from heart disease have grown out of years of previous research funded by the British Heart Foundation. The study focused on patients under treatment for high blood pressure, and we now need to know if the link also applies to other groups at risk.” Alongside the BHF’s support, this work was also funded by the Wellcome Trust and a grant from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Imperial Biomedical Research Centre.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, which helped fund the research, said: “Whether measurement of IgG will become a valuable tool for improving prediction of heart attack needs more investigation, but this well-designed study does provide further evidence for the role of the immune system in heart disease and the protective effects of IgG.

“Heart attacks devastate thousands of families across the UK each year and research like this is vital to improving diagnosis so doctors are able to act fast and try to prevent a potentially deadly incident.”

Find out more about how research is beating heart disease at bhf.org.uk/research

ENDS

To request interviews or for more information please call the BHF press office on 020 7554 0164 (07764 290 381 – out of hours) or email newsdesk@bhf.org.uk.

Notes to editors

1) Khamis RY, Hughes AD, Caga-Anan M et al. High Serum Immunoglobulin G and M Levels Predict Freedom from Adverse Cardiovascular Events in Hypertension: a Nested Case-Control Substudy of the Anglo-Scandinavian Cardiac Outcomes Trial. EBioMedicine doi:10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.06.012 (2016).The paper will go live here after the embargo lifts: http://www.ebiomedicine.com/article/S2352-3964(16)30256-0/fulltext

2) BHF Cardiovascular Disease statistics available online: https://www.bhf.org.uk/research/heart-statistics

About the British Heart Foundation (BHF)For over 50 years we’ve pioneered research that’s transformed the lives of people living with heart and circulatory conditions. Our work has been central to the discoveries of vital treatments that are changing the fight against heart disease. But so many people still need our help. From babies born with life-threatening heart problems to the many Mums, Dads and Grandparents who survive a heart attack and endure the daily battles of heart failure. Every pound raised, minute of your time and donation to our shops will help make a difference to people’s lives. For more information, visit bhf.org.uk.

The NIHRThe National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. The NIHR is the research arm of the NHS. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (www.nihr.ac.uk).

About Imperial College London:Imperial College London is one of the world's leading universities. The College's 16,000 students and 8,000 staff are expanding the frontiers of knowledge in science, medicine, engineering and business, and translating their discoveries into benefits for society.

Founded in 1907, Imperial builds on a distinguished past - having pioneered penicillin, holography and fibre optics - to shape the future. Imperial researchers work across disciplines to improve health and wellbeing, understand the natural world, engineer novel solutions and lead the data revolution. This blend of academic excellence and its real-world application feeds into Imperial's exceptional learning environment, where students participate in research to push the limits of their degrees.

Imperial collaborates widely to achieve greater impact. It works with the NHS to improve healthcare in west London, is a leading partner in research and education within the European Union, and is the UK’s number one research collaborator with China.

Imperial has nine London campuses, including its White City Campus: a research and innovation centre that is in its initial stages of development in west London. At White City, researchers, businesses and higher education partners will co-locate to create value from ideas on a global scale.www.imperial.ac.uk

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