Can Alzheimer’s Therapy Help Heart Patients?

Heart failure therapy may have a new approach based on Alzheimer’s treatment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Each year, millions of adults are affected by heart failure—when the heart fails to pump effectively. New therapies have been slow to develop, but Alzheimer’s treatment may offer a solution.

Today, about nine out of ten patients hospitalized for a heart attack survive and often return to normal activities within weeks.  

While treatment has improved from decades ago, there have been few advancements in therapy, according to some scientists.

A new analysis finds that some treatment approaches being developed for Alzheimer's may also help reverse the damage from heart failure.

"Exercise regularly to maintain a healthy heart."

Cam Patterson, MD, chief of cardiology at University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill, coauthored a scientific report with Monte Willis, MD, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at UNC.

Based on their research, the doctors found striking similarities between heart cells in patients with heart failure and brain cells in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. These similarities suggest that some Alzheimer’s drug therapies could be used with heart patients.

After reviewing several recent studies, the two scientists concluded that misfolded proteins in heart cells are a key factor in the process of heart failure.

Large accumulations of misfolded proteins within damaged heart cells are similar to the accumulations found in the brain cells of patients with Alzheimer's.

Proteins carry out chemical processes in cells. Protein folding is the process a protein follows to assume its working shape. When proteins do not take on their proper shapes, they are called misfolded. Misfolded proteins in brain cells have been linked to diseases such as Alzheimer's, mad cow (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and Parkinson's.

Scientists studying Alzheimer's and other neurological disorders have long focused on ways to correct or prevent protein misfolding, and have even developed drugs that accomplish this feat

Because misfolded proteins also cause wear and tear on the heart, Dr Patterson and Dr. Willis believe that some of the methods used to treat Alzheimer’s could be applied to heart patients.

"This raises the possibility that that same type of strategy, and maybe even some of those compounds, will be beneficial in heart failure," said Dr. Patterson. "It's an entirely new treatment paradigm."

Studies suggest that the expression of certain proteins (called small heat shock proteins or HSPs) in the heart can be manipulated with drugs such as geranylgeranylacetone, according to the analysis. This “may hold promise for halting the progression of heart failure due to misfolded proteins, leading to improved cardiac function and survival,” write the authors

In addition, the doctors highlighted studies that indicate the benefits of exercise for Alzheimer’s patients. Exercise appears to maintain proper protein folding in Alzheimer’s patients, and that exercise can a similar benefit for patients with heart disease.

"We know that Alzheimer's is a process of wear and tear on the brain, and the same sort of wear and tear affects the heart," said Dr. Patterson. "The good news is now that we recognize that — and can understand how the wear and tear actually affects proteins in the heart — it offers us a new chance to identify strategies to reverse that wear and tear. It's like providing a key to preventing aging of the heart."

This study was published in the January 31 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 10, 2013
Last Updated:
February 12, 2013