THURSDAY, Oct. 2, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- The anemia drug erythropoietin (EPO) may help lessen the effects of heart attack due to ischemia (lack of oxygen) by protecting heart cells from dying.
The finding comes from a Thomas Jefferson University Medical College study in the Oct. 1 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
The researchers found that animals given a single dose of EPO and then given the equivalent of an ischemic heart attack suffered less severe attacks. That's because EPO somehow reduced programmed cell death in heart cells, the study says.
"As a result, smaller infarcts meant heart function was increased," researcher Walter Koch, director of the Center for Translational Medicine, says in a news release.
Koch says he's not convinced EPO directly affects heart function. Rather, he says, there is simply more good heart muscle left after an ischemic heart attack.
"EPO can protect the ischemic heart. It looks like it is a generalized phenomenon in tissue outside red blood cells," Koch says.
EPO is a naturally occurring hormone that stimulates the body to produce more red blood cells. Giving EPO before a heart attack may be particularly beneficial for patients admitted to hospital with acute coronary syndrome, where ischemia is present but the patients haven't yet suffered a heart attack.
"In these cases, there are opportunities to treat them prophylactically to protect against an ischemic event such as an impending balloon angioplasty procedure. That would be the group to test first," Koch says.
Here's where you can learn more about heart attack.