Research looks at treatment strategy to prevent heart failure

A 2020 Heart Foundation-funded research project investigating a new treatment strategy for heart failure patients is showing exciting early results. Now we’re funding a new project to see if the same strategy could be used to prevent people going into heart failure in the first place.

A new treatment strategy that could be used to prevent people from developing heart failure after a heart attack is the focus of new research funded by the Heart Foundation.

Professor Chris Charles, co-director of physiology at the Christchurch Heart Institute, is investigating the benefit of a potential new treatment which could reduce the damage that often occurs following a heart attack.

“We already have a number of drugs which can be used to limit the damage caused by heart attacks, but the real hope is that we can discover a new class of drugs which will give benefit over and above that which is already available,” says Chris, who has received a two-year Heart Foundation project grant to carry out the work.

“We have progressed leaps and bounds in heart attack treatment in the last few decades. We know how to keep people alive, but eventually the damage to the heart can take its toll and lead to heart failure which affects quality of life and in turn can lead to early death.

He hopes a new treatment strategy will prevent that. It works by blocking an enzyme known as PDE9 and as such enhances the beneficial effects of heart hormones working to repair damaged heart tissue and improve heart function.

“The new treatment that we’re trying actually targets a messenger for the heart hormones called cyclic GMP. We’re hoping the new drug will make the cyclic GMP last longer and have greater effect on the heart tissue.

“We believe it can prevent or limit the initial damage after a heart attack and reduce the changes in heart structure that occur over subsequent weeks. We think it will improve the heart structure and function and prevent people progressing into heart failure.”

This 2021 grant comes as current Heart Foundation funded research by fellow CHI researcher, Associate Professor Miriam Rademaker, into already established heart failure is showing benefits.

“Because Miriam’s results are so exciting, we’re now looking at using this treatment in people at risk of heart failure, such as following a heart attack,” Chris says.

Chris’ relationship with the Heart Foundation dates back nearly two decades – he was awarded his first research fellowship in 1994 – and he’s thankful for all the support he has received.

“Heart Foundation grants are incredibly important for this work,” he adds. “The Christchurch Heart Institute is leading the charge in the world with this kind of heart research, and these grants are a lifeline for keeping this essential work going.”