Each year, almost 500,000 open heart surgeries are performed in the United States. During these operations, surgeons rely on heart-lung machines to keep patients alive while they transplant healthy arteries and veins onto an ailing heart. However, these machines aren’t perfect.
Often oxygen doesn’t flow or reach organs as well as it would naturally. As a result, a patient can experience low blood pressure, and tiny blots clots can form. All these possibilities can unintentionally cause damage throughout the body.
But a newly detected molecule could eventually be used to prevent harm to vital organs during surgery. U of U Health researchers say a drug based on this molecule could drastically reduce post-surgical complications, particularly following heart bypass procedures.
In studies with human cells and mice, the scientists discovered a peptide that appears to protect the heart. In experiments with mice that had reduced the ability to produce the peptide, called GJA1-20k, the researchers found an increased risk of surgical complications. In contrast, hearts genetically engineered to produce more than usual amounts of the peptide were protected.
The results suggest that IV drips (infusions) of GJA1-20k prior to surgery could protect organs from damage caused by diminished blood flow. The scientists are taking this research to the next steps in efforts to develop the peptide as a preventative therapy.