Missing link found in foetal heart failure

10 December 2009

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Category: Research & medical benefits

baby–infant–asleep–newborn.jpgThe inability to form a blood clot in a foetal blood vessel has been linked to heart failure in newborns, a study using mice has discovered.

Every foetus has a short blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus which allows blood to bypass and protect the foetus's fluid filled lungs, and helps to strengthen the heart. Normally, the vessel closes just hours after birth with the help of platelets, parts of the blood which promote clotting. In some cases, however, the vessel fails to close, causing a condition known as patent ductus arteriosus. As a consequence there is an increased pressure in lung blood vessels which leads to irregular heart rhythms and eventually heart failure.

A team examined the condition in mice, focusing on platelet function. They found that after birth platelets assemble in the blood vessel at the point of closure. In mice with defective platelet function this did not happen. As a result a similar condition occurred to that in humans involving an increase in blood to the lungs.

The scientists also conducted a clinical trial with premature babies which showed that a shortage of blood platelets prevented the ductus arteriosus from closing properly.

Researchers hope this breakthrough will lead to a change in current treatment methods. They suggest a transfusion of platelets for newborns to lower the risk of the condition.