A new therapy given within 24 hours of a heart attack can dramatically improve the outcome for a patient by cutting inflammatory damage in half, a new study from Northwestern University has found.

A significant chunk of the damage following a heart attack can be attributed to a group of biological agents that only mean well: inflammatory cells that rush to oxygen-starved tissue. Dr. Daniel Getts, lead investigator and visiting scholar of microbiology-immunology at the university’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a press release that the new emergency intervention works by introducing a wave of biodegradable microparticles that bind to these particles. Essentially, the inflammation is then taken for a ride through the body until the dust settles.

"This is the first therapy that specifically targets a key driver of the damage that occurs after a heart attack," he said. "There is no other therapy on the horizon that can do this. It has the potential to transform the way heart attacks and cardiovascular disease are treated."

The study, which is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, shows that if the new therapy is administered within 24 hours of a myocardial infarction, it can reduce the size of the resulting heart lesion by 50 percent. Additionally, it allows the damaged heart to pump significantly more blood.

Microparticles and Inflammatory Disease

The microparticles, which measure about 1/200th the width of a human hair, have already been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Aside from illuminating a new strategy against heart damage, the findings of the new study also show how these particles can be applied across other types of inflammatory disease. According to co-author Stephen Miller, this versatility opens up a world of possibilities.

"The potential for treating many different diseases is tremendous," he told reporters. "In all these disease models, the microparticles stop the flood of inflammatory cells at the site of the tissue damage, so the damage is greatly limited and tissues can regenerate."

Alleviating the Burden of Heart Disease

The current study is the latest in an ever-growing series of efforts to identify new types of damage control for heart attack and stroke. Another example is a study from Columbia University published last year, in which researchers show that brushing your teeth can help reduce artherosclerosis, a major factor of vascular health. Similarly, a study from the University of Toronto shows that a seasonal flu shot is associated with a lower risk of heart disease in both healthy and high-risk patients.

According to official estimates, heart disease currently kills about 2,200 Americans every day, making it the nation’s number one cause of death. Adverse cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke typically results from coronary artery disease, a condition characterized by the gradual narrowing and blockage of the coronary arteries. To learn more about treatment and prevention, visit the Mayo Clinic’s online guide.

Source: Getts DR, Terry RL, Getts MT, King NJC et al. Therapeutic Inflammatory Monocyte Modulation Using Immune-Modifying Microparticles. Science Translational Medicine. 2014.