Could Lac-Phe levels in the blood be related to ischemic heart disease?

We’ve given University of Otago Research Fellow Dr Louise Paton, from the Department of Medicine’s Christchurch Heart Institute (CHI) a $109,843 grant to find out.

When the heart is working hard, lactic acid levels rise. As the body metabolises fuel, it produces lactic acid as a result, creating a burning sensation in the muscles. For some people, these levels are able to be managed, while for others, it’s harder to keep them under control.

“If you come into the emergency department, and if your lactic acid levels are high, it’s highly correlated to mortality. We know that high levels of lactic acid in the heart is a bad thing, but what we don’t know is how the heart gets rid of it.”

Dr Paton wants to find out how lactic acid levels determine the progress of heart disease and what can be done to minimise it.

“In a normal healthy person, as exercise levels change, your body can compensate. It keeps things nice and on the flatline. Whereas it seems that in some people, they don’t have the ability to control it so well.”

Dr Paton will measure Lac-Phe, a lactic acid metabolite, across 1000 samples of people who have arrived at the Christchurch emergency department with chest pain. Recently Lac-Phe was found to reduce feeding and improve exercise capacity in mice, racehorses, and humans. Dr Paton will be the first person to study how this metabolite may contribute to heart disease.

“Our aim is to discover biomarkers that can be used for diagnosis and treatment. With something like chest pain in the emergency department, their ultimate goal is to identify people that need to stay in the hospital, and people that need to go home. Ideally, these biomarkers will determine that.”

Dr Paton is grateful for the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation grant so that she can continue her excellent work.

“Without the grant, I wouldn’t be doing the project. I’m extremely grateful that it can keep an early career researcher like me employed and doing what I love.”

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