Investigators at the University of Utah including bioengineering associate professor Frank Sachse have identified distinct differences in the hearts of advanced heart failure patients who have defied the odds and showed signs of recovery from the disease. Published online in the journal Circulation, the new findings could help clinicians identify the best candidates for cardiac recovery therapies.
“Based on everything a doctor would traditionally measure, these patients look equally sick,” says co-senior author and cardiologist Stavros Drakos, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of internal medicine. “But what we’re seeing is that there are differences between them at the biological level, and we can use that information to predict who has a chance to recover.”
Less than 10 years ago, advanced heart failure was dubbed “end-stage” for a reason. Aside from receiving a heart transplant, there were no treatment options. Since then, researchers have found that some patients respond differently after implantation of a mechanical heart pump, called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). The invasive procedure comes with its own risks, but for 15 to 20 percent of these patients something happens that was considered unthinkable a decade prior: the pump unburdens the damaged heart and promotes recovery.
The discovery led Drakos and Sachse, who is co-senior author of this study, to reason that “responders” could provide clues to recovering sick hearts.
Considering the burden of heart failure, it’s important to find new answers, says Drakos. One in five American adults over age 40 will develop heart failure within their lifetime, according to the American Heart Association. And half die within five years of diagnosis, an outlook that’s worse than for most cancers.