High blood pressure is a health hazard which scientists the world over would like to banish somehow by finding a permanent cure, the result of which they hope will save many lives.

Well, it seems a breakthrough by British scientists could pave the way at least for more effective blood pressure drugs. Experts have discovered how the body regulates blood pressure – giving them a way to replicate it with medication. They found the condition is naturally reduced when nerves which surround the arteries release nitric oxide. Scientists said the discovery marks a ‘fundamental change’ in the way they view blood pressure. Previously, experts thought it was regulated by the blood vessel walls themselves, rather than the bundle of nerves surrounding them.

The breakthrough also offers a clue about the roles stress and emotion play with the condition, because these nerves have a direct link to the brain. High blood pressure – known as hypertension – affects one in three adults, more than 17 million of the British population. The condition vastly increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes and vascular dementia, but because it has no symptoms until it is too late, only half of those with the condition know they are at risk.

Of those who have been diagnosed, hundreds of thousands take daily pills to control their blood pressure. However, the current treatment is only effective for about half of patients. The discovery, by scientists at King’s College, London, could allow doctors to mimic the body’s method of regulating blood pressure, by stimulating the nerves with enzymes so they produce more of the chemical.

The research team, whose work is published in the journal Hypertension, made the discovery through experiments on healthy men with normal blood pressure, in which they used a drug to stop the nerves producing nitric oxide and found blood pressure rocketed as a result. Professor Ajay Shah, head cardiologist at King’s College Hospital, said: ‘Our discovery will fundamentally change the way we view the regulation of blood pressure. Until now the majority of blood pressure drugs have focused on other pathways. Establishing that nerves releasing nitric oxide influence blood pressure, provides a new target for drugs and could eventually lead to more effective treatment for patients.’

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the research said: ‘Whilst there are already many treatments for high blood pressure, they are not always effective.’ He added: ‘These results provide hope of new treatments for people with poorly controlled high blood pressure which could prove crucial in preventing a heart attack or stroke.’

This is most welcome news. Research of this kind will enable us yet again to prove that with determination and resolve, nothing is beyond our reach.

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