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World-first trial shows single injection could help patients recover after heart attacks

The breakthrough could lead to improved quality of life and life expectancy for patients.

CMK25042017 UCC_Cardiovascular Sciences0014 John Nolan, who took part in the trial Source: Clare Keogh

A PROFESSOR AT University College Cork (UCC) has shown that a single injection could help repair damaged hearts.

Professor Noel Caplice, the chair of Cardiovascular Sciences at UCC, and his colleagues at Cork University Hospital have shown that low dose insulin-like growth factor can help repair damage to the heart.

Some 47 patients, who had all experienced large heart attacks, took part in the trial – the first of its kind in the world.

Around 20% of people who suffer heart attacks have severe ongoing difficulties because of lasting damage to heart muscle even after the best current therapies, often resulting in patients developing long-term heart failure, associated with increased morbidity and mortality.

As part of the trial, patients received two different low dose preparations of insulin-like growth factor or placebo. People who received the higher dose showing improved remodelling of their heart muscle in the two-month follow-up after their heart attack, which correlated with other measures of improved heart performance.

Noel Caplice, Chair of Cardiovascular Sciences Professor Noel Caplice with John and Margaret Source: Clare Keogh

Speaking about the development, Caplice said: “We are delighted that an important human study like this could be funded in Ireland and performed in Cork.

“This pilot trial is the first of its kind worldwide showing that single injection of low dose IGF1 is safe and can improve cardiac repair after a large heart attack.

We hope that these findings can be replicated in potentially larger trials of many hundred subjects in the future. A significant minority of our patients currently remain unwell after a large heart attack despite best clinical practice and we are excited by the possibility that cardiac repair therapy may help these patients.

The trial was funded by a €1 million grant under a joint research programme run by the Health Research Board (HRB) and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

If future bigger trials are successful, the growth factor could be applied more widely to improve the quality of life and life expectancy of patients who have suffered a large heart attack, and be financially beneficial to the health service by reducing ongoing care costs.

‘I felt very vulnerable’

John Nolan from New Ross in Wexford was one of the patients involved in the trial. He suffered a heart attack in December 2014. “I feel I was blessed to be asked to be involved. I had confidence that good would come from it, in terms of how they explained it to me,” he said.

His wife Margaret added: “Even as a nurse, I felt very vulnerable at the thought that my husband could’ve died. I speak on behalf of myself and my children, I’m really grateful for the aftercare and attention John received as a result of being on his trial.”

CMK25042017 UCC_Cardiovascular Sciences0004 John and Margaret Source: Clare Keogh

Dr Mairéad O’Driscoll, interim chief executive at the HRB, said results like these are “a perfect illustration of why the HRB has invested so much in building Ireland’s capacity to conduct clinical trials”.

Professor Mark Ferguson, SFI director general and Chief Scientific Adviser to the government, also welcomed the news, noting that collaborative research groups “can produce life-changing advances in health research, with the potential to positively impact on patient wellbeing globally”.

The research has been recognised and peer-reviewed by the European Society of Cardiology and the trial will be presented for the first time at the organisation’s Heart Failure 2017 conference in Paris today.

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Órla Ryan

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