We’ve all seen the story in the news before. Whether it’s the death of a physically fit high school athlete at football training camp in August, or of an elderly woman gardening in the middle of the day in July, heat stroke is a serious, life-threatening condition for which there is no treatment beyond submersion in ice water or the application of ice packs to cool the body to a normal temperature.
But, in a new study published today in the journal Nature Medicine, scientists discovered what they believe is one of the first drugs to combat heat stroke. AICAR – an experimental therapy once dubbed the “couch potato pill” for its ability to mimic the effects of exercise in sedentary mice – protected animals genetically predisposed to the disorder and may hold promise for the treatment of people with enhanced susceptibility to heat-induced sudden death.
“There is a great need for the training staff of athletic teams, physicians in emergency rooms in places like Phoenix, and soldiers serving in the deserts of the Middle East to have a drug available to give to individuals during a heat stroke event,” said Robert T. Dirksen, Ph.D., study author and professor of Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “Our study takes an important first step towards developing a new drug therapy that may be part of the standard treatment regimen for heat stroke in the future.”
The finding comes as heat stroke cases are on the rise. According to a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the number of heat-related injuries in the U.S. more than doubled from 1997 to 2006. In that 10-year period, an estimated 55,000 people were treated for the condition in emergency rooms across the country.