Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Liquid Drano for the arteries

Parallels between the human heart and a toilet? Believe it. In a study sponsored by biotechnology company Esperion Therapeutics Inc. of Ann Arbor, Mich., researchers have discovered a sort of “liquid Drano” for the arteries. The treatment, developed by Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Dr. Steven Nissen, involves intravenous doses of synthetic components of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), otherwise know as “good” cholesterol, which reduce plaque buildup in the arteries.

Much to the medical community’s surprise, the controversial new treatment has passed preliminary tests verifying its ability to reduce plaque buildup in coronary arteries, and was shown to ultimately lower the risk of heart disease in many of the patients studied.

The surprisingly quick results, though preliminary, shatter a long-standing belief that heart disease is a slow-progressing disease that takes a long time to undo, according to an editorial by Dr. Daniel Rader accompanying the study in the latest Journal of the American Medical Association.

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High levels of HDL cholesterol are optimal and result in a lowered risk of heart attacks and strokes. HDL levels can be increased by quitting smoking, losing excessive weight and being physically active. It is also just as important to keep levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), the more harmful form of cholesterol, low. Unlike HDL cholesterol, which should be maximized, a high level of LDL cholesterol increases a person’s chances of having a heart attack or stroke and accordingly should be kept as low as possible.

The new treatment works on the basis of reducing bad cholesterol by circulating through the bloodstream and gathering the LDL that accumulate in major arteries, eventually returning them to the liver for repackaging and elimination.

It is never too early to begin worrying about cholesterol levels, according to the American Heart Association, and many young people may incorrectly assume that high cholesterol is something that plagues only “older people.” AHA officials say no one is immune to high cholesterol, no matter what their lifestyle, and much of the damage and buildup that will trouble them later in life is a result of college-age eating patterns.

For now, the new drug remains in its experimental phase and was only recently tested on a small group of patients suffering from heart attacks or chest pain. In the study, each patient was given intravenous infusions of the substance for five weeks. At six weeks imaging tests revealed that patients receiving the synthetic HDL had 4 percent reduction in plaque buildup. This was marked with obvious surprise by doctors who have long held to the belief that heart disease involves a slow recovery. Yet not all doctors are convinced.

University of Wisconsin Clinical Professor of Medicine Thomas J. Ansfield questioned the reliability of the study findings.

“It is too early to determine how this treatment will fare when administered to larger groups of patients with coronary heart disease,” he said. “Additional data is needed to see if the results can be reproduced, and to provide us with more information on efficacy, safety and cost effectiveness.”

Ansfield advised eating a balanced healthy diet and maintaining a good exercise regime as the safest and most effective means of battling heart disease.

Jason Simms, an assistant professor of pharmacy at UW, expressed a similar sentiment, saying additional data was needed to see if the results could be reproduced. Simms was cautiously optimistic, however.

“I believe that therapies like ECT 216 (intravenous doses of synthetic HDL) have the potential to significantly increase our ability to treat patients with coronary artery disease in the next decade,” he said.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease has been the No. 1 killer in the United States in every year since 1900 except the year 1918. The disease currently causes one in every 2.5 deaths in the United States, and researchers hope that the development of treatments such as the “liquid Drano,” these statistics may someday be reduced.

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