Around 85 per cent of the world’s 17.9 million cardiovascular deaths are the result of a heart attack and researchers are constantly looking at new ways to treat the deadly and life-changing cardiac event.
Scientists have now discovered a potential new drug that could treat heart damage that’s caused by a heart attack by targeting how the heart reacts to stress. A research team used stem cells to grow heart tissue and mimic a ‘heart attack in a dish’ and had success in blocking the chemical signals within heart muscle that cause cell death and heart damage.
The study, published in the Cell Stem Cell Journal, is the first to discover a specific protein called MAP4K4 has a pivotal role in how heart muscle cells die off due to the stress of a heart attack. Developing a potential drug, researchers have minimised damage after a heart attack by 60 per cent in mice.
Heart attacks occur when there is a blockage in one of the main coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart. Because the heart is starved of oxygen and nutrients, stress signals are produced by the muscle that cause the heart cells to die. When this happens, the heart can no longer pump effectively and often results in heart failure, making it harder for a person to complete everyday tasks such as getting dressed or climbing stairs.
The British Heart Foundation is now working to develop drugs that could be given to patients in the hours following a heart attack to reduce heart muscle death caused by stress signals. In heart attack victims, resupplying the heart with oxygen and nutrients is essential and is usually achieved by unblocking the coronary artery. Researchers are hopeful the drug will be developed into an injection and given to a patient who is being prepared to receive balloon angioplasty to open the blocked artery.
The discovery was made after researchers studied heart samples of patients with heart failure and showed that MAP4K4 is activated in mice after a heart attack as well as in heart cells and heart tissue subjected to stress chemicals in the laboratory. By blocking levels of MAP4K4, the cells are protected.
Mice were given the drug one hour after the blood flow to their hearts was restored, where researchers observed the 60 per cent decline in heart damage. They now believe targeting this new protein and testing the results in human heart tissue grown from stem cells could be successful. If it is, they will move on to trials in heart attack patients, which could occur by 2021.
“There are no existing therapies that directly address the problem of muscle cell death and this would be a revolution in the treatment of heart attacks,” lead researcher Michael Schneider said in a statement. “One reason why many heart drugs have failed in clinical trials may be that they have not been tested in human cells before the clinic. Using both human cells and animals allows us to be more confident about the molecules we take forward.”
Researchers said that there have been decades of studies to try and stop the decline of heart failure and while promising, more research is needed to refine and tests the drugs that target MAP4K4.
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