From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published August 9, 2012 08:47 AM

Drug Found to Protect Heart from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is known as the silent killer. It is a product of incomplete combustion in stoves, furnaces and boilers. It is odorless, tasteless, transparent, non-irritating at first, and lethal even at low concentrations. CO initially causes headaches, confusion, vertigo, and flu-like effects. Prolonged exposure can cause severe heart and nervous system disorders, reducing the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. Lethal levels cause arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) that may lead to death. A new research from the University of Leeds in the UK has uncovered a treatment that can prevent CO's toxic effects. They found that the anti-angina drug, ranolazine, can effectively block the arrhythmias from happening for victims of CO poisoning.

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"When patients are admitted to hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning, the main problem doctors face is preventing damage to the body whilst the body slowly removes the chemical," said University of Leeds' Professor Chris Peers, who led the research. "We've shown that ranolazine can rapidly protect the heart and prevent the kind of cardiac events which threaten patients long after their exposure to the gas."

This research may turn out to be a real breakthrough, considering the fact that about 1.6 million deaths worldwide are caused by CO poisoning. Ranolazine, also known as its trade name Ranexa, was developed originally for the treatment of angina. Angina is chest pain due to lack of blood in the heart muscle. It is typically caused by coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries).

The researchers from Leeds examined the effect of ranolazine on individual cardiac cells to understand the mechanism for why carbon monoxide can trigger arrhythmias. With the help of colleagues at universities in France, they found that the drug significantly reduced the chance of arrhythmia in the animals experimented on.

"Whilst the link between arrhythmias and carbon monoxide has been known for over 50 years, this is the first piece of research to explain the underlying process," said University of Leeds' Professor Derek Steele, who co-authored the research. "At the molecular level, we have shown that the mechanism underlying this adverse effect of carbon monoxide is a rise in the level of nitric oxide within cells, which in turn alters the function of the sodium channel."

Further research will involve human trials. If all goes well, ranolazine may become much more common in hospitals as the go-to treatment for CO poisoning.

The study will be published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine

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