SCOTTISH scientists have identified a molecule that could be used to stop heart stents failing.

It is hoped that the Heriot-Watt University finding will reduce the number of stents that are rejected by patients’ bodies – as well as the associated costs to the NHS.

Each year, thousands of people in the UK have stents permanently inserted into their arteries to keep blood flowing and to treat the underlying cause of coronary heart disease (CHD), Scotland’s single biggest killer.

For around 5% of patients, this process can damage the artery walls and cause inflammation, leading to failure of the stent. This means several thousand patients have to be readmitted to hospital annually.

Dr Stephen Yarwood, from Heriot-Watt’s Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering, has now identified a molecule that tackles the inflammation.

“Our mission is to find new formulations for stents that make inflammation, and failure of the stent, much less likely,” he said.

“We knew that an enzyme called EPAC1, which sits in the cells of blood vessels, turns off inflammatory signals, like a molecular switch.

“We tested thousands of chemicals that had potential as good starting points for drug-discovery projects but with no currently known use. We found that a molecule called I942 can regulate EPAC1’s activity.

“Now we know that this molecule can prevent or reduce inflammation, our next task is to make it more effective by modifying its structure. It’s like a key – we know it fits in the lock, now we have to change its shape so that we can unlock the door.”

The research, funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and the Scottish University Life Science Association, involved testing chemicals at the European Screening Centre in Newhouse to find out whether any of them could target EPAC1.

“This collaboration combined Dr Yarwood’s knowledge of EPAC1’s biology with our experience of using drug discovery to develop new tools for drug research,” said Dr Stuart McElroy, head of biology at the European Screening Centre and


More than 6700 people die every year from CHD and there are an estimated 240,000 people in Scotland living with the condition.