July 1, 2006 Inflammations that occur after a heart attack can be a severe complication that further damages the heart. Cardiologists are now trying a new approach called immune modulation therapy, which exposes a sample of the patient's blood to UV light and ozone. Once reinjected, the injured blood cells trigger a strong immune response, reducing the risk of more heart attacks.
HOUSTON -- This year, 300,000 people will die from chronic heart failure. But researchers are hoping novel new therapies can help bring those numbers down. Next, on discovery and breakthroughs, see how the human body can actually be tricked into healing a failing heart.
Just a few months ago, Gloria Shelby was rushed to the hospital. Doctors said her heart was failing.
"They said my heart was so weakened 'til it just wouldn't continue pumping by itself," Shelby says. She was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Her only option was a heart transplant.
Shelby's heart trouble led her to cardiologist Guillermo Torre-Amione, medical director at the Heart Transplant Methodist Hospital in Houston. He studies the link between inflammation and heart failure.
Dr. Torre put Shelby in a new study of immune modulation therapy. First, a patient's blood sample is exposed to ultraviolet light and ozone gas. This damages blood cells. Then, the sample is reinjected into the patient, triggering an immune response that produces new cells and attacks inflammation.
"When you deliver them back to Ms. Shelby in an intramuscular injection in the hip, her body looks at that and attempts to trigger all these repair responses so that eventually they go to the heart and repair the heart," Dr. Torre tells DBIS.
Patients treated with IMT have a lower death rate than those taking a placebo. And although Shelby doesn't know which group she was in, she does know she's happy to be alive.
She says, "The Good Lord and good doctors have kept me here for my family."
Dr. Torre says IMT therapy could eventually be used to treat other diseases that are linked to inflammation like atherosclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
BACKGROUND: Immune modulation therapy (IMT) is a new way to treat patients with chronic heart failure. The therapy triggers an immune response, which improves cardiac function by reducing harmful inflammation.
ABOUT IMMUNOTHERAPY: The human immune system has many components that work together to defend the body against invaders, including bacteria, microbes, viruses, toxins, and parasites. If an invader gets past the initial barrier into the body, the immune system can detect it. The immune system triggers the release of antibodies or proteins to fight off the invader. Immunotherapy is treatment that uses certain parts of the immune system to work harder by triggering it via an outside source, such as manmade immune system proteins. Immunotherapy with proteins is similar to the use of vaccines, in which a patient is injected with a weakened form of a disease, leading to an immunity against future invasions by a particular strain. Immunotherapy is most effective when treating small, early forms of cancer, but continued research could expand its usefulness to more advanced forms of cancer and other diseases.
HAVE A HEART: The heart pumps 5.6 liters of blood through the entire body in roughly 20 seconds; each day your blood travels some 12,000 miles, and your heart beats about 100,000 times. This delivers oxygen and other essential nutrients to the body's cells and organs. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart muscle is cut off, either because part of the heart is damaged (such as the valves to the chambers), or because plaque has built up inside the arteries, narrowing them and severely restricting blood flow. Symptoms of a heart attack include a squeezing discomfort in the center of the chest, pain or tingling in the left arm, shortness of breath, and sometimes a cold sweat, nausea, or dizziness.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.