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Breakthrough treatment can prevent damage from a broken heart

Researchers for the first time reverse damage caused by broken heart syndrome

heart-failure-final Representative image | Shutterstock

Medical researchers have uncovered for the first time, a way to prevent and reverse damage caused by broken-heart syndrome, also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. The condition caused by stress is known as stress cardiomyopathy or apical ballooning. It has the same symptoms as a heart attack but is not caused by any underlying cardiovascular disease.  

The landmark study, by a team of researchers from Monash University, has shown the cardioprotective benefit of a drug called Suberanilohydroxamic acid (SAHA) which target genes. The world first for Takotsubo cardiomyopathy dramatically improved cardiac health and reversed the broken heart. 

Broken-heart syndrome is a weakening of the left ventricle, the heart's main pumping chamber and is brought on by stressful emotional triggers often following traumatic events such as the death of a loved one or a family separation. This condition mimics a heart attack with chest pain, shortness of breath and irregular heartbeat.

SAHA, currently used for cancer treatment, is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), works by providing a protective benefit to genes and in particular the acetylation/deacetylation (Ac/Dc) index, an important process that regulates gene expression.

The goal of the study, led by Prof Sam El-Osta from Monash Central Clinical School, was to better understand the regulatory mechanism as a first step towards improved treatment plans.

"We show for the first time a drug that shows preventative and therapeutic benefit is important to a healthy heart. The drug not only slows cardiac injury but also reverses, the damage caused to the stressed heart," Prof El-Osta said.

In western countries, there is a clear, uneven distribution among patients with Takotsubo — the condition occurs almost exclusively in women, especially after menopause, with new research suggesting that up to 8 per cent of women suspected of having a heart attack may have this disorder.

While the main symptoms are chest pain and shortness of breath, the precise cause isn't known. Experts think that surging stress hormones essentially flood the heart, triggering changes in heart muscle cells or coronary blood vessels (or both) that prevent the left ventricle from contracting effectively. This causes the heavy-achy-feeling you get in the chest which can be mistaken as a heart attack.

Most patients recover fully within two months which is the good news, but the bad news is that along the way some patients suffer from significant heart failure and other in-hospital complications. There is no standard treatment for broken-heart and while death is rare, heart failure occurs in about 20 per cent of patients, with therapeutic options remaining limited.

"This pre-clinical study describes a new standard in preventative and therapeutic potential using a cardioprotective drug that targets genes in the heart," Prof El-Osta said.