Healthcare: On the Agenda - Morphine inhibits heart recovery

In a nutshell

A University of Bristol study has found that the painkiller morphine can hinder recovery in heart attacks by blocking a substance that stimulates stem cell activity in arteries. The discovery could lead to new medicines and the reassessment of the use of morphine.

About the research

Heart attack victims are routinely given morphine, despite death rates among heart attack patients being higher when morphine is given than not. The drug acts by blocking pain-inducing substances. Researchers now say their 'ultimate aim' is to develop a therapy that will repair muscle damaged after an attack, though the discovery will not have any impact on patient care in the short term. Funding of the study was split between the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and the EU.

PR strategy

The research was published online in American Heart Association journals in March, but not picked up by the British press. The BHF decided to promote the paper as an exclusive, and offered a press release, drafted with the University of Bristol, to The Observer's science correspondent Robin McKie. BHF associate medical director Professor Jeremy Pearson was briefed to field calls about the study. It was published to the BHF's Facebook audience thee days after first appearing online.

Media coverage

The Observer's story was picked up by The Telegraph online, and news sites in India, New Zealand and Singapore. BBC Radio 4's Inside Health programme carried an in-depth interview with Professor Pearson.

124k - Number of people who have a heart attack each year in the UK*

33% - Proportion of heart attack victims who die before reaching hospital*

*Source: British Heart Foundation.

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