Cardiologist Demetris Yannopoulos, MD, believes research into the use of a “synthetic molecular Band-Aid” to treat heart attack patients could lead to more than the latest medical discovery—it could lead to hope.
Yannopoulos, a University of Minnesota Health Heart Care physician, is one part of a multidisciplinary research team that was recently awarded a $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate this new treatment concept for heart attacks. Their research will focus on myocardial ischemia and reperfusion injury, which account for over 300,000 deaths each year in the U.S.
Myocardial ischemia occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is stopped by blocked coronary arteries. This causes the death of heart muscle cells and can reduce the heart’s ability to pump efficiently. A severely blocked coronary artery can even result in a heart attack.
But the re-opening of blocked arteries—necessary to restore blood flow to the heart—can also cause additional damage to the cardiac muscle, which is known as reperfusion injury.
And that’s where Yannopoulos and a collaborative team of researchers come in. They hope a synthetic molecular seal, or “Band-Aid,” could protect the heart muscle from damage during reperfusion. The collaboration began in 2008 when Joseph Metzger, PhD, professor and head of Integrative Biology and Physiology, and Frank Bates, SM, ScD, Regents professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, began investigating the possibility of using polymers to protect cell tissue.
“The idea behind this is that we can use these molecules to seal a membrane that has been affected by the heart attack,” Yannopoulos said.
The effect of this research on patients’ quality of life and medical expenses could also be significant, Yannopoulos said. If doctors are able to prevent the heart muscle from being damage during the re-opening of blocked arteries, the risk of long-term health consequences like heart failure may be reduced, thereby mitigating medical costs.
“So, if you can protect the muscle, patients’ activity increases because they can actually work, go back to their community and go back to their regular lives. The cost on the medical expenses really goes down. It could have significant potential financial application for patients in society,” Yannopoulos said.
And when it comes to infusing a little more optimism into patients and families who have dealt with the troubles resulting from heart attacks, Yannopoulos said that’s one of the biggest benefits of their research.
He expects the team could be applying for federal funding for clinical trials in about two years.
“What's really exciting is we’re starting to realize something that was once considered futile is not futile anymore, and there is hope,” he said.