A novel drug for heart failure also is showing promise for alleviating the sleep apnea associated with it, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

The drug, known as AF-130, was tested in an animal model at Waipapa Taumata Rau at the University of Auckland, where researchers found it improved the heart’s ability to pump but, equally important, prevented sleep apnea.

“This drug does offer benefit for heart failure, but it’s two for the price of one, in that it’s also relieving the apnea for which there is currently no drug, only CPAP, which is poorly tolerated,” says Julian Paton, PhD, director of the University’s Manaaki Manawa, Centre for Heart Research, in a press release.

When a person has a heart attack and subsequent heart failure, the brain responds by activating the sympathetic system, the “fight or flight” response, as a way to stimulate the heart to pump blood. However, the brain persists with this activation of the nervous system, even when it is no longer required, and this, together with the consequent sleep apnea, contributes to a patient’s reduced life expectancy, according to a press release by the University of Auckland, which notes that most patients die within five years of a heart failure diagnosis.

“This study has revealed the first drug to temper the nervous activity from the brain to the heart thereby reversing the heart’s progressive decline in heart failure,” says Paton in a press release.

The part of the brain that sends nervous impulses to the heart also controls respiration, so this drug has a dual function, reducing the “fight or flight” response while also stimulating breathing to stop the sleep apnea, according to the press release.  

Another exciting factor for the scientists, who are from the University of Auckland and the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, is they expect the drug will soon receive FDA approval, albeit for a different health issue, paving the way for human trials in the next year or two, Paton says in a press release.

“Over recent decades there have been several classes of drugs that have improved the prognosis of heart failure,” says Martin Stiles, PhD, associate professor and cardiology consultant, in a press release. “However, none of these drugs work in the way that this new agent does. So it is exciting to see a novel method that potentially reverses some features of heart failure.”

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