Wellington: Researchers have developed a novel drug that has shown promise for alleviating heart failure and sleep apnoea — a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts.
The team from University of Auckland in New Zealand tested the drug, known as AF-130, in an animal model.
They found it improved the heart’s ability to pump, but, equally important, prevented sleep apnoea, which itself reduces lifespan.
“This drug does offer benefit for heart failure, but it’s two for the price of one, in that it’s also relieving the apnoea for which there is currently no drug, only CPAP (a breathing device), which is poorly tolerated,” said Professor Julian Paton, director of the University’s Centre for Heart Research.
When a person has a heart attack and subsequent heart failure, the brain responds by activating the sympathetic system, the afight or flight’ response, as a way to stimulate the heart to pump blood.
However, the brain persists with this activation of the nervous system, even when it is no longer required, and this together with the consequent sleep apnoea, contributes to the patient’s reduced life expectancy. Most patients die within five years of a heart failure diagnosis.
“This study has revealed the first drug to temper the nervous activity from the brain to the heart thereby reversing the heart’s progressive decline in heart failure,” said Paton.
The part of the brain that sends nervous impulses to the heart is also controlling respiration, so this drug has a dual function, reducing the afight or flight’ response while also stimulating breathing to stop the sleep apnoea.
These findings, described in the journal Nature Communications, have real potential for improving the wellness and life expectancy of people living with heart disease.
The drug will soon undergo human trials in the next year or two, Paton said.
“Over recent decades there have been several classes of drugs that have improved the prognosis of heart failure,” said cardiology consultant and Associate Professor, Martin Stiles.
“However, none of these drugs work in the way that this new agent does. So it is exciting to see a novel method that potentially reverses some features of heart failure.”