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21st March 2024

Exeter Fellow Professor Neil Herring leads research into new blood test that could help identify people at highest risk of dying from heart failure

A blood test could help identify those at highest risk of dying from heart failure, new research led by Exeter College Tutorial Fellow in Medical Science, Professor Neil Herring, has found.

The study, funded by the British Heart Foundation and led by Professor Herring, found that patients with highest levels of a protein called neuropeptide Y (NPY) were 50 per cent more likely to die from a heart complication over the three years that the research was conducted, compared to those with lower levels. Testing for NPY could help predict how heart failure is likely to progress, and researchers hope that a blood test could be used to help guide treatment for heart failure patients within five years.

Heart failure occurs when the heart can’t pump blood around the body as well as it should. It is a life-limiting condition resulting in frequent hospital visits and reduced quality of life and there is currently no cure. It is estimated that there are over one million people living with heart failure in the UK, and there are around 200,000 new diagnoses in the UK each year.

The research, which has been published in the European Journal of Heart Failure, analysed data from over 800 participants at different stages of heart failure and adjusted for known factors that can influence how heart failure progresses, including age, kidney function, how well the heart pumps and BNP levels.

Professor Herring comments: ‘The findings of this research are an exciting new development, building on over ten years of collaborative research on this stress hormone.

‘We hope our research will ultimately benefit the increasing number of patients who are living with the debilitating effects of heart failure daily. Next, we will investigate whether measuring for very high levels of neuropeptide Y could influence whether patients can get lifesaving treatment like ICDs [implantable cardioverter defibrillators] before the blood test can be rolled out within five years.’

Professor Bryan Williams, Chief Scientific and Medical Officer at the British Heart Foundation says: ‘This new research suggests that a new, cheap and simple blood test could help us in future to more accurately spot which patients with heart failure are at highest risk of early death.

‘Measuring neuropeptide Y levels could in future offer healthcare professionals greater insights into how a patient’s heart failure is likely to progress, in particular whether those with high levels of neuropeptide Y would benefit from additional treatment to reduce their higher risk. It is only through funding lifesaving research like this that we can continue to push the boundaries and ensure that people with heart failure receive the best and most suitable treatment to help them live well.’

The research has received extensive coverage, including in The IndependentThe Times, and Metro. You can read the full paper here.

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