Cancer drug could be ‘game-changer’ in fight against heart attacks

A ‘game-changer’ cancer drug could one day be used to treat heart attack patients, a study on mice suggests. University of Bristol researchers found the daily injection prevents irreversible damage that occurs after a heart attack.

The drug is known as an MEK inhibitor and works by stimulating the growth of healthy new blood vessels.

Patients who have a heart attack often go on to suffer heart failure due to poor oxygen supply to damaged parts of the organ. It is hoped that injecting the drug shortly after a heart attack can maintain healthy blood flow and keep the heart healthy.

In the study on mice, 90 per cent of rodents given the drug after a heart attack survived after two weeks, compared to 70 per cent of the control group.

Experts said the findings are ‘extremely exciting’. Researchers want to start clinical trials in human patients next year.

A ‘game-changer’ cancer drug could be used to treat heart attack patients in the future, a study by University of Bristol researchers suggests

Around 100,000 Britons are hospitalised with a heart attack each year and 800,000 Americans are admitted.

A quarter of patients die from heart failure a year after suffering one and the majority don’t live beyond eight years.

The body is unable to regenerate damaged parts of the heart naturally, which leads to cells dying and the organ losing its ability to pump properly.

Currently there are few treatments available to prevent this from happening, with most victims giving a stent to hold their arteries open to keep blood flowing.


Figures suggest there are 100,000 hospital visits because of heart attacks in the UK each year, while there are around 800,000 annually in the US.

A heart attack, known medically as a myocardial infarction, occurs when the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked.

Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and feeling weak and anxious.

Heart attacks are commonly caused by coronary heart disease, which can be brought on by smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Treatment is usually medication to dissolve blots clots or surgery to remove the blockage.

Reduce your risk by not smoking, exercising regularly and drinking in moderation.

Heart attacks are different to a cardiac arrest, which occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood around the body, usually due to a problem with electrical signals in the organ.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, sought to find a way of regenerating blood vessels around the heart after a heart attack.

Twelve mice were split into two groups and given either the drug or a control three days after suffering a heart attack.

MEK inhibitors work by reprogramming perocytes — stem cells that wrap around veins — to turn into a new type of cell that can cause the growth of healthy new blood vessels.

The mice were given the drug daily for two weeks and scientists measure how well the main chamber of the heart was functioning.

If the chamber was not working properly, this would indicate heart failure.

This was done by measuring the proportion of blood being pumped out the chamber, as well as the total volume being pumped out.

They also tracked whether the mice survived or not.

The total volume increased by 7.7ml in mice taking the drug and fell around 16ml in those in the control group.

The probability of surviving the heart attack was around 90 per cent in mice taking the drug compared to just less than 70 per cent in the control group after 15 days.

Professor Paolo Madeddu, a cardiovascular medicine expert leading the research, told The Times: ‘It’s extremely exciting. This could be the long-awaited game-changer for the treatment of heart attack.

‘Heart muscle cells die because they do not have blood supply, which means the heart loses the ability to pump properly and people develop heart failure.

‘If we can grow new blood vessels in a critical time after a heart attack, it would improve blood flow to the heart and save heart cells that would otherwise die.’

Separate results from the current study on human cells show the drug acts similarly on them, suggesting it may be as effective as it was on mice.

The team expect the drug to be approved quickly if results are promising because it is already available to cancer patients.

MEK inhibitors, such as trametinib and dabrafenib, are already approved for the treatment of solid tumours on the NHS, including melanoma, a type of skin cancer.

Trials have shown they are effective against several other types of cancer — including ovarian, pancreatic and leukemia.

The drugs work against cancer by stopping tumours from releasing the hormones they need to grow.

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