Sunday, October 9, 2011

Proteins can decrease damage after heart attack

A heart attack is characterised by death of tissue due to a lack of oxygen, for example due to blockage of blood vessels. With new treatment options, it seems possible to reduce the damage that occurs after the body responds to a heart attack. The immune system launches a response against the dead and damaged cells, to clear them from the body, and replace them with a filler, called scar tissue. Because of this inflammatory response from the body, a lot of extra tissue dies after the initial death due to lack of oxygen. For this secondary form of damage, a protein shake might be able to prevent most of it. Though we can never bring dead cells back to live, we might be able to prevent at least part of the damage in heart attack, which might just be enough to keep a patient alive, with more options for recovery.
The new treatment is derived from a mix of white blood cells, that somehow synthesize the right set of proteins that, when tested in the laboratory, prevent cells from creating scar tissue. It is however unclear how much damage the new drug is able to prevent, as cells can still die from lack of oxygen. Still, preventing the inflammatory process in which non-functional tissue is build up in the heart is an important step in treating patients that have suffered from an infarct.

One of the advantages of this new treatment is that it is possible to prepare the protein solution before the patient has a heart attack. The contents are not recognized by the immune system, which allows for the production of the drug without using the patient's own material. This is important, as time is of the essence after an acute heart attack. 

If we prevent the body from scarring the heart tissue following an infarct, we give ourselves more opportunities for repair. For example, after the protein treatment, we may follow it up with a stem cell treatment to restore the cardiomyocytes that were lost after the heart attack. This is harder to do if the body creates a harmful inflammatory environment, and replaces lost tissue with useless scar material. 

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