imagesAccording to statistics collated by the CDC, at least 600,000 people die of heart disease annually. Many more suffer from heart attacks, some for the first time and others for the second. Coronary heart disease costs the country $108.9 billion yearly. What is worse is that some people are not even aware of the risk factors that they may have for heart disease. As many as 50 percent Americans already have risk factors like diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking that can predispose them towards heart disease, apart from the worrying increase in the incidence of obesity, physical inactivity, alcohol use and more. There are many different kinds of heart disease, not simply coronary artery disease and heart failure because the heart is a muscle with many different parts and mechanisms of action.

Heart valve disease

The American Heart Association says that more than five million people are diagnosed with heart valve problems. The heart has four different valves that work together to allow the smooth flow of blood. If even one valve is damaged or affected in some way, it can lead to cardiac problems. Unfortunately, often heart valve disease may not have any symptoms or may be under-diagnosed.

Different treatment options are used, depending on the medical history, the valves affected and to what degree and other factors. Doctors may prescribe medications alone, heart valve repair or heart valve replacement. Diseased or damaged heart valves may be replaced with natural valves made from animal tissue or artificial valves. Natural valves are better, but they do tend to degrade, leading to repeated surgeries. Artificial valves, on the other, require that blood thinning medicines to prevent the blood from clotting, needs to be taken regularly. Blood thinning medicines like warfarin come with their own side effects and warnings and the patient has to be constantly monitored.

An article published in Nature Communications on February 11, 2014 reported on research done at the University of California and the University of Michigan. The report titled Integration of molecular and enzymatic catalysts on graphene for biomimetic generation of antithrombotic species shows there is a new possible treatment option that can obviate the use of blood thinning medicines by using grapheme coated valves.

The valves can be coated with two catalysts. The first is glucose oxidase, a natural enzyme that changes the glucose in the blood to hydrogen peroxide. The second is an artificial molecule called haemin which promotes the reaction of hydrogen peroxide with L-arginine. These work together and form nitroxyl that mimics the body’s own anti-coagulant properties.

A fragment of grapheme is used and this single-atom layer of carbon holds the catalysts near each other, promoting the blood reaction, making the valve implants easier to use. However, more studies are needed on the preparation and use of this coating and to see whether it is stable and safe over a long period of time or not.

Heart rhythm disorder research leads to startling findings

Long QT syndrome 2 is a heart rhythm disorder that can be fatal if not treated. Caused by a hERG (human ether-a-go-go-related gene) mutation – hERG controls the heart cells’ electrical activity and coordinates the heart’s rhythm, both of which are important for heart and body health. While this condition is usually genetic, occasionally it can be caused by certain medications or some other medical conditions.

Researchers at the National Health Centre, Singapore, were able to completely reverse the conditions leading to this disorder. They used pluripotent human stem cells from the patient and reprogrammed them into heart cells. They then used different drug compounds on these cells in a petri dish and found a drug called ALLN (not normally tested for such a condition) that could reverse the effects of Long QT syndrome 2.

Using this method was easier and, in fact, this method paves the ways for faster drug research and accelerated development instead of the decades current methods take. Another positive of this method is that since it uses the patient’s own cells, there are greater chances that it will work and with fewer or not side effects. The researchers took a year to discover the drug that would work.

The research team was awarded the best poster prize at the prestigious ESC (European Society of Cardiology) Congress on 1 September 2013, the largest international cardiology meeting attended by close to 30,000 participants.

Sources:

American Heart Association

The Strait Times