WEDNESDAY, Nov. 7 (HealthDay News) -- A synthetic form of a hormone that ramps up during pregnancy might prove to be a powerful new drug against tough-to-treat heart failure.
Researchers who presented data from a study this week at the American Heart Association annual meeting in Los Angeles said the drug, serelaxin, shows promise.
But experts were cautious, saying the findings need to be repeated in larger trials.
"If we did replicate this finding, it would be an extraordinary advance in the care of acute heart failure, for which we have no disease-modifying or life-saving therapies," said Dr. John McMurray, professor of cardiology at the University of Glasgow, in Scotland, who commented on the study during an AHA press briefing.
Serelaxin is the lab-created version of a natural hormone in men and women called human relaxin 2. Relaxin circulates in low levels in humans, but spikes dramatically in women during pregnancy.
As study author Dr. John Teerlink explained at the briefing, "pregnancy is a physiologic state where there are marked improvements in cardiac, arterial and [kidney] function, and these are exactly the kinds of changes that we'd like to see in acute heart failure."
In humans, relaxin also has been shown to improve blood flow and cut down on inflammation, so scientists thought it might help fight heart failure.
In heart failure, the heart is damaged (often by a heart attack) and becomes inefficient, leading to chronic weakness and shortness of breath. The condition is often fatal, and there has been no real advance in treating the disease for decades.
In the study, Teerlink and his colleagues randomly assigned more than 1,600 hospitalized heart failure patients with an average age of 72 to receive either 30 micrograms per day of serelaxin or a placebo via a 48-hour infusion.
Patients received the medication within 16 hours of t
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