The promise of new medical uses for sodium nitrite for heart attack and organ damage

tissue damage and cell death that can occur in conjunction with organ transplantation, heart attack, and treatment of a heart attack.

In both the liver and heart components of the current study, the research team compared the effects of both lower and higher concentrations of nitrite versus control treatments of saline or nitrate, a chemical compound that is related to nitrite but cannot convert to NO in the blood. Surprisingly, they found that only low concentrations of nitrite provided protection against injury.

The investigators are currently studying the mechanism for the protective effect of sodium nitrite and they believe it is related in some way to the conversion of nitrite to nitric oxide.

"The remarkable thing about nitrite is that it is only converted to nitric oxide in the organs and tissues with the lowest oxygen levels, allowing for targeted NO delivery and thus improved blood flow -- to tissues under stress. More research is needed to look at the effectiveness of nitrite in various organs and disease states in humans," said NHLBI's Gladwin who is also an investigator in the Critical Care Medicine Department, NIH Clinical Center.

Gladwin is currently studying the use of sodium nitrite as a way to help adults with sickle cell disease. It is hoped that this treatment will reverse the effect of decreased blood flow due to the patients' "sickled" blood cells. Patients with sickle cell disease have abnormal hemoglobin molecules in their red blood cells. The molecules damage the red cells, causing them to change into a crescent or sickle shape and stick to blood vessel walls. This can lead to narrowed, or blocked, blood vessels leading to pain, damage, and anemia.

Further studies either underway or in planning translate the new findings to humans. These studies evaluate sodium nitrite's effect on heart attacks, kidney failure, solid organ transplantation, cerebral vasospasm (a complication

Contact: NHLBI Communications Office
NIH/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

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