Bear bile compound may help treat heart attack: Study

According to the latest research a compound found in bear bile could be used to treat heart attack victims.

The compound, ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), is already used to lower cholesterol and help dissolve gallstones, and it's a key ingredient in many traditional Chinese medicines, which use bear bile. According to the latest research from Imperial College London it might also be able to treat abnormal heart rhythm, or arrhythmia, in fetuses and heart attack victims.

Dr Jill Robinson MBE, Founder and CEO, Animals Asia Across Asia said, “An estimated 14,000 bears are being kept in tiny cages, starved and dehydrated, and milked for their bile.” However bears need not be killed for it as UCDA can be synthesized in the lab. UCDA acts by altering the electrical properties of myofibroblasts, cells that disrupt electrical signals in the heart. Myofibroblasts only appear in fetuses and heart attack victims, where they are involved in laying down scar tissue.

These findings are exciting because the treatments we have now are largely ineffective at preventing arrhythmia in patients who develop an abnormal heart rhythm after a heart attack,” said Dr. Julia Gorelik, the study's lead author. She added, “Our results from the lab suggest that UDCA could help the heart muscle conduct electrical signals more normally. We're hoping to set up a clinical trial to test whether these results translate to patients with heart failure.”

The compound is already used to treat a condition called obstetric cholestasis, which affects around one in 200 pregnant women in the UK and is linked to a higher risk of arrhythmia and sudden death in the fetus. UDCA lowers the levels of harmful bile acids which build up in the mother's blood in the disease and can pass into the infant through the placenta.

Co-author Professor Catherine Williamson from the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, said, “Our study suggests that it is the appearance of myofibroblast cells that make the fetus vulnerable to arrhythmia in obstetric cholestasis. We think that targeting these cells could be an important new approach for preventing abnormal heart rhythm, not just in the fetus, but also in people who have had a heart attack.” The study appears in the journal Hepatology.

Commenting on the research, Peter Weisssberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said, “This study provides some insight into how bile acids might cause fatal rhythm disturbances in fetal hearts. If the same mechanism applies to adult hearts after a heart attack, this could prove to be a useful treatment to prevent serious heart rhythm disorders.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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