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Priming Heart Before an Attack Could Limit Damage
Date:1/10/2008

Animal study shows preconditioning cardiac cells helps organ better tolerate loss of blood flow

THURSDAY, Jan. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Just as daily runs can prepare you to survive a marathon, blocking blood flow to the heart for brief spells could condition cardiac cells to better withstand the damage of a heart attack, a new animal study from the University of Cincinnati suggests.

Ultimately, if validated in humans, these findings could lead to a drug that "could be given to a patient where the heart is in stress, and it could [then] tolerate that stress better," explained study leader Dr. Karyn L. Butler. Such a drug might also protect the hearts of people with known cardiac problems who are about to undergo surgery.

The findings show a new way to make use of a long-known phenomenon in which short-lived restrictions on blood flow, known as ischemia, could strengthen the heart's ability to recover from a heart attack, Butler added.

This preconditioning is "almost a form of exercise for the cell," explained Butler, who is an associate professor of surgery at the university. "For example, if you are going to run a marathon, you don't start with 20K, you start with a little bit at a time. If the heart is exposed to a brief period of ischemia -- maybe five minutes or a shorter period of time, and then exposed to a long period of time which we know as a heart attack -- hundreds of animal as well as human studies show that the heart can tolerate a heart attack better. It's almost as if the cell gets used to it and can prepare itself for handling a longer period of reduced blood flow."

Butler and her team shared two new insights into this protective, preconditioning phenomenon. They've identified in animals the molecular mechanisms behind preconditioning in a healthy heart, and they've demonstrated that the activating factor can be transferred to a healthy heart.

Their study examined the mechanism of
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