Dutch scientists discover possible cure for heart failure

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Researchers at the Maastricht University teaching hospital have discovered the gene that is responsible for developing heart failure, a serious disease which kills thousands of mostly elderly people a year.

The scientists are also hopeful about a drug they have developed which can 'turn off' the gene, allowing the heart to recover. Research leader and molecular biologist Leon de Windt says clinical trials started a few years ago. He expects the drug, which is effective even in far-advanced cases of heart failure, to become commercially available in three years.

Various causes... In the Netherlands, about 180,000 people have been diagnosed with heart failure, with about 35,000 new cases being diagnosed each year. Heart failure is a generic term for a number of complaints caused by diminished heart capacity.

Among the possible causes are high blood pressure, a constriction near the aortic valve or an earlier heart attack. A reduction in the volume of blood pumped round per heart beat means a reduction in the oxygen supply to most organs. Shortness of breath and fluid retention in the legs are often the first symptoms of heart failure, with heart attacks and strokes as possible consequences.

The body’s own processes The Maastricht researchers have discovered that the same gene is always involved in heart failure. The symptoms begin to manifest themselves as soon as it becomes active, and the process is stopped as soon as it is switched off, allowing the heart to heal.

This will happen even when a condition of high blood pressure continues to exist, which is often the case in elderly people. The drug uses the body's own processes to switch the gene off, which, according to the scientists, is a wholly new approach to heart disease.

Heart failure mainly affects people over 75 years old, and 66 percent of patients die within five years of their first admission to hospital. The costs related to the treatment of heart failure amount to 400 million euros a year.



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