According to EurekAlert! Science News, researchers have pinpointed the certain immune cell that further inflames a heart attack. The immune cell, however, comes with good intentions of trying to fix the injured heart. Instead of fixing it, the immune cell actually triggers even more inflammation. The drug that effectively inhibits this inflammation, it turns out, is actually already a treatment for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, otherwise known as IPF.
IPF is a lung condition in which the lung tissues become hardened. As a result, the hardened lungs make it hard for oxygen to enter the bloodstream. Common symptoms of IPF are related to this and include shortness of breath and a dry, hackling cough that doesn’t go away. IPF most commonly affects the lungs, but since the body is so intertwined and the lungs play such a crucial role, the condition often affects many other parts of the body as well, including the stomach, hands, and feet. Treatments for IPF are aimed at slowing the progression of the disease, although the life expectancy after diagnosis is somewhere between 3-5 years. To learn more about the disease, click here.
The Role of Pirfenidone
So how does this condition relate to heart attacks? As touched on earlier, a currently approved treatment for IPF is also being used in mouse models to effectively treat heart attacks. In fact, mouse models that received this treatment, pirfenidone, lived longer after heart attacks.
This is most likely because researchers discovered that pirfenidone was responsible for regulating the immune cells that further inflame the heart after one experiences a heart attack. These specific immune cells, that try to help but end up doing more harm, are called B cell lymphocytes.
Often, the second wave of heart attack damage occurs when these immune cells inflame the heart. Now, researchers are working on a way to limit this type of further damage, and in doing so may be able to effectively save many people from eventual heart failure after heart attack. This is where pirfenidone could come into play.
In IPF, pirfenidone is used to slow down the formation of scar tissue in the lungs. Similarly, researchers have seen that pirfenidone has a parallel effect on the heart in mouse models.
Typically, studies involving heart attacks focus on other types of immune cells including monocytes, neutrophils, macrophages, and T cell lymphocytes. Dr. Luigi Adamo, the first author on the study, did not find any difference in the counts of these immune cells before and after mice received pirfenidone for injured hearts. The major difference Adamo found was in the B cell lymphocytes.
B Cells and Heart Attacks
The role that B cells could play in heart damage had not been understood previously. In addition, the researchers discovered that there were in fact multiple types of B cells that were involved.
It’s important to note that Adamo found it was not helpful to remove the B cells either. Instead, when he removed the cells, he found that the heart was still unprotected and the treatment was no longer effective at all. Scientists have concluded from this that B cells are not all bad in this situation; there must be some benefit to them also.
Though pirfenidone is considered a safe drug, Adamo did mention that it has some side effects including nausea and vomiting. That said, scientists are confident that they can now manufacture a more tolerable version of the drug now that they know what it specifically targets.
Who knew that this IPF treatment would have such a great impact? To learn more about the research, click here.