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Cancer drug could help treat heart problems

Study finds medication for cancer improves cardiac health in mice after heart attacks

A class of drugs originally developed to treat cancer may also help reduce the risk of death after a heart attack, a new study by University researchers suggests.

Cardiologists at the Alpert Medical School administered different types of the cancer drugs — c-SRC inhibitors — to mice that had developed abnormal heartbeats after suffering heart attacks. After four weeks, they found that mice treated with the drug had healthier hearts and a lower risk of death than those in the control condition. Their findings will be published Tuesday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The mice served as a “heart attack model” to determine the drug’s effects on humans, said Samuel Dudley, professor of medicine and chief of the division of cardiology at the Med School, who co-authored the study.

Dudley and his colleagues have already patented the drug and eventually plan to submit the drug for trials in heart disease patients, he said.

Gideon Koren, a professor of medicine who was not involved in this study, said the research represents an “important discovery” because “it forms the basis to explore the effects of c-SRC inhibition … in larger animals and hopefully humans.”

Every year, about 525,000 people suffer from a heart attack for the first time. After a heart attack, individuals are at a greater risk of sudden cardiac death, or irreversible heart failure, Dudley said. Often, sudden cardiac death is caused by an irregular rhythm of the heart, a condition for which there is no ideal treatment.

“There’s no one (drug) that we give people that has been empirically proven to help,” Dudley said.

The medication tested in the study belongs to a new class of drugs that inhibit a protein — c-SRC — that plays a role in cancer proliferation. Though this protein is important in early stages of embryonic development, it is generally not as active in adults, prior studies have found. If a mutation causes overproduction of the protein in certain adult cells, tumors can form.

Recent research has shown that high levels of c-SRC are also correlated with the disruption of communication between heart cells. The stress of a heart attack triggers a cascade of biological signals, in which c-SRC plays a role, that results in the degradation of connections between heart cells. With fewer of these vital connections, cells in the heart fail to effectively coordinate, and a patient’s chance of an irregular heartbeat and sudden death increases, Dudley said.

Dudley said he and his colleagues have known about this signaling cascade for years. The new study sought to determine whether or not it was “relevant to human disease.” The finding that inhibiting c-SRC “decreases the risk of sudden death” in mice indicates that the drug could be an effective treatment for humans, though more research is necessary, Dudley said.


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