Stopping Heart Failure: A Two-Pronged Approach

May. 12, 2014

Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump an adequate amount of blood to the different organs of the body. It is often accompanied by increased levels of stress hormones that are made and released from the adrenal gland and are part of the body’s natural flight–or-fight response.

heart failureA recent study reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology demonstrates a novel approach to curb heart failure that targets both the heart and the adrenal gland. The authors found that a drug compound called gallein blocks a molecular pathway responsible for the development of the disease. The pathway is present in the heart and the adrenal gland and stifling its activity in both places led to a healthier heart in a mouse model of heart failure.

In the study gallein increased cardiac function and halted inflammation and structural damage to the heart. Using human adrenal gland tumors, the authors showed that gallein treatment also reduced the secretion of stress hormones into the blood, which is known to promote a healthy heart.

The study was a collaborative effort between Burns C. Blaxall, PhD., formerly an associate professor within the Aab Cardiovascular Research Institute and now the Director of Translational Science, Heart Institute at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Alan V. Smrcka, PhD., Louis C. Lasagna Professor of Experimental Therapeutics and Professor of Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. 

Smrcka identified gallein in his previous research on molecules involved in hormone function. The clear advantage of using the compound is that it specifically targets the unwanted interactions that lead to heart failure, leaving the normal mechanisms that lead to a healthy heart intact.  Plus, it can be injected or taken orally and is easily accessible to cells.

An additional exciting feature of the study is the possibility that gallein could be harnessed for treating adrenal gland tumors called pheochromocytomas, which secrete excess amounts of certain stress hormones. The current method of treatment is surgical removal of the tumors, but gallein may be able to damage or kill these tumors by suppressing their ability to release stress hormones.