Molecular help for heart attacks

14 September 2008
Posted by Chris Smith.

Researchers in the US have discovered a chemical that could become a new treatment for heart attacks, as well as helping to protect the heart during open heart surgery or other traumatic events.

A HeartWriting in the journal Science, the researchers from Stanford and Indiana universities describe how jump-starting a particular enzyme called ALDH-2 using a compound called Alda-1 can reduce the amount of cell death caused by a lack of blood flow to the heart  - as is seen during heart attacks.

The key to the research was the team's discovery that ALDH2 activity correlates with reduced levels of cell damage in heart attacks. ALDH2 is better known as an alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme, responsible for breaking down alcohol in the body - and it's well known that small amounts of alcohol can help to protect the heart. So the scientists set about finding a molecule that could switch on ALDH2 without the need for booze, and that turned out to be Alda-1.

At the moment, the experiments have only been done in rats, so several more years of work will be needed, to turn the chemical Alda-1 into a drug that's safe and effective in humans.

Millions of people of East Asian origin aren't suitable for the most common heart treatments, such as nitroglycerin, due to their genetic makeup - around 40% of people from that background have a faulty version of ALDH2. But the team found that Alda-1 was particularly effective at kick-starting this form of ALDH2, which offers hope for a treatment for this group of people.

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