Understanding high blood pressure

Studies of rats by Professor Julian Paton are helping to bring us closer to a new treatment for high blood pressure.

Background to research

More than one in four adults in the UK have high blood pressure, which if left untreated can cause stroke, heart failure and kidney disease. There have been no new medications for high blood pressure for 15 years and 45% of people taking current treatments do not improve, illustrating the urgent need for new drugs.

Studies performed

Professor Julian Paton’s research group studied rats with high blood pressure to find out if carotid bodies (small sensors found in arteries that supply the brain) help cause the condition.

When carotid bodies sense low blood oxygen levels they trigger reflex increases in breathing and blood pressure to compensate. They discovered that carotid bodies were hyper-sensitised and that removing them stopped rats from developing high blood pressure. 

Research impact

Building on their work in rats, the researchers began the world’s first trial of this approach in humans, starting in 2012. They removed one carotid body from each patient who took part, leading to a substantial fall in blood pressure and a reduction in the need for high blood pressure medication in 60% of patients.

They have also discovered a receptor responsible for carotid hypersensitivity and have worked to develop a novel small molecule to block it. This brought carotid body sensitivity back to normal and lowered blood pressure in rats with high blood pressure. Overall, this work suggests that the researchers are on the verge of discovering a new drug to help treat high blood pressure. 

Researchers are on the verge of discovering a new drug to help treat high blood pressure.

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