A drug used to treat multiple sclerosis may also hold promise for treating the heart condition known as cardiac hypertrophy — thickening of the cardiac muscle — which often leads to heart failure, new research shows.
The study, by medical investigators at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, found that the MS drug — known as FTY-720 — blocked the action of several genes involved in cardiac hypertrophy.
The drug, which is derived from a fungus used in traditional Chinese medicine as an anti-aging agent, is a chemical cousin to the drug most widely used to suppress the immune system and prevent organ rejection in transplant patients.
In laboratory tests of mice with cardiac hypertrophy, the researchers found FTY-720 significantly reduced heart mass, lessened fibrosis (or stiffening of the heart muscle), and improved overall cardiac function.
"There comes a day when the heart just can't keep up any more, and it fails," said R. John Solaro, who helped lead the research, published in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure.
"We saw that FTY-720 blocked the activity of a protein we know is involved in causing heart-cell thickening."
Cardiac hypertrophy, which afflicts one in 500 people, can be caused by high blood pressure or inherited through genes that control contraction of the heart. Solaro said if the thickening of the heart muscle can be slowed, or even reversed, heart failure could be prevented.
"FTY-720 is a potential therapy to treat this disease and prevent heart failure for people where the disease is acquired through high blood pressure, and possibly inherited hypertrophy as well," he said.
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