DALLAS -- Scientists are one step closer to making gene therapy for heart failure a reality, scientists from Duke University Medical Center reported Sunday.
Molecular biologist Walter J. Koch and his colleagues said in a report prepared for the 71st scientific sessions of the American Heart Association that they have for the first time delivered therapeutic genes throughout a rabbit's heart and have shown that the genes can increase heart function.
The animal experiments are a crucial step in developing a genetic treatment for congestive heart failure, a debilitating and deadly condition in which heart muscle loses its ability to stretch and contract, usually due to clogged arteries caused by coronary artery disease. People with congestive heart failure often experience fatigue, weakness, and an inability to carry out routine daily tasks. Right now, there is no effective means to reverse heart failure, only to treat symptoms.
According to the American Heart Association, about 400,000 new cases are recorded every year in the United States. Death rates from congestive heart failure tripled between 1974 and 1994, making it the leading cause of hospitalization among people 65 and older and costing more than $10 billion a year.
Koch, an associate professor of experimental surgery, and his colleagues have been working for several years to find ways to efficiently deliver genes to the heart to boost heart function.
Early experiments focused on identifying the molecular players that are responsible for efficient pumping action in the heart and showing which ones aren't doing their jobs in failing hearts. Using mouse models and sophisticated genetic techniques, the Duke scientists showed that two key proteins in heart cells work together to regulate heart function.
In diseased hearts, the body releases the hormone norepinephrine, the
"fight-or-flight" hormone, directly into the heart, causing it
Contact: Karyn Hede George
Duke University Medical Center