An exercise pill for heart failure patients

According to latest research, scientists at the Ottawa University, Canada have come up with a pill that can mimic the effects of regular exercise. This could be significantly beneficial to heart failure patients. The study was published in the journal Nature.

Patients of heart failure usually have a failing pump where the heart fails to pump adequate blood to meet the needs of the body for oxygenated blood, leading to symptoms such as fatigue and severe breathlessness. The heart muscles become stiff and thickened in the condition known as cardiomyopathy.

For this study the researchers used a protein called cardiotrophin 1 and attempted to see if it could help stimulate the growth of new muscle cells in the heart. The protein was found to promote heart cell growth in the experimental laboratory rodents in a similar way that exercise increases heart strength.

The protein human cardiotrophin 1 (hCT1) was given to the mice with heart failure for a 14 day period. Heart muscle can grow in either a healthy or bad way. The bad way is when it stiffens in cardiomyopathy. Healthy growth is usually caused by regular exercise and is reversible – meaning it can stop when exercise is stopped. The researchers assessed the mice and rats after two weeks of treatment using echocardiograms of the heart. Echocardiograms carried out six weeks later to see if the effects were reversible after stopping the protein. They also tested phenylephrine – a decongestant on the heart.

Results showed that both phenylephrine and hCT1 stimulated heart muscle growth. But hCT1 was more controlled and produced structural changes to the heart similar to those induced by exercise. Phenylephrine treatment however, caused the heart muscle cells to grow wider but did not provide any beneficial effects. After hCT1 treatment was stopped, the heart muscle growth reversed after six weeks. This is just what happens after exercise is stopped. But the phenylephrine-induced growth which was unhealthy, remained after the drug was stopped. This means the risk of heart failure remained. Further the hCT1 protein significantly reduced the unhealthy growth that occurs in heart failure.

Researchers have explained that this exciting new find is still in its nascent stages and more studies especially on humans are needed before this can be available for use. They concluded that the protein cardiotrophin 1 can produce healthy and beneficial “remodeling of the heart”. First clinical trials on humans can be expected in three to four years time. The study was carried out by researchers from Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa in Canada, and Fate Therapeutics Inc. in San Diego, US and funded by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Ontario Research Fund, the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada and Fate Therapeutics.

Heart failure

Heart failure is a syndrome that causes a reduction in the heart's ability to pump blood. Heart failure may occur due to failure of the left ventricle muscle to pump blood around the body. This is called left ventricular systolic dysfunction (LVSD) or left ventricular failure (LVF). Backward failure or right ventricle failure leads to an excess accumulation of fluid in the body and edema, called anasarca. This usually causes the feet and legs to swell up. The liver may also become enlarged. Biventricular failure refers to when both the left and right ventricles fail to work as usual.

Symptoms of heart failure vary according to the type and severity of the heart failure but, commonly, symptoms include breathlessness and coughing, extreme weakness and fatigue and swelling in various parts of the body. Diagnosis is made using several tests and imaging studies including echocardiography.

In many people, heart failure is a lifelong condition that cannot be cured. Treatment aims at maximizing heart function and improving quality of life.


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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