A new study has suggested that one of the components used in cancer and epilepsy drug can also help prevent heart attacks.
Heart attacks are normally caused by the formation of a blood clot in one of the blood vessels that supply the heart with oxygen and nutrients.
The body has a natural defence system to prevent blood clots - the fibrinolytic system, which 'sprays' a special enzyme over the clots to break them down before they manage to obstruct the vessel.
However, in order to function properly, this system needs sufficient quantities of the enzyme to be stored in the vessel wall. Unfortunately these stores are often depleted because of hereditary and lifestyle factors, such as high blood pressure, smoking and overweight, which probably increases the risk of a heart attack.
Researchers at the University of Gothenburg's Sahlgrenska Academy have been looking at a way to stimulate the clot-dissolving system. The results have been promising and have opened the door to new ways of preventing heart attacks.
"We're trying to find a medicine that boosts the stores of the enzyme as this probably would help the body to prevent heart attacks," said Pia Larsson at the Sahlgrenska Academy. For the study, Sahlgrenska researchers used HDAC inhibitors, substances new to this particular context, and managed to stimulate production of the relevant enzyme.
"We found that treatment with HDAC inhibitors dramatically increased production of the clot-dissolving enzyme, and that this occurred at far lower concentrations than expected," said Larsson.
The advantage of HDAC inhibitors is that they are already in use for treating illnesses such as epilepsy and cancer, which means that their pharmacological properties and side-effects are known.
However Larsson has said that more research is needed before a drug to prevent heart attacks can be launched.
"Our trials have been carried out on cultured cells from the vessel wall and we can't guarantee that the cells, when present in the body, will behave in exactly the same way."
"The results must therefore be tested on people before we can draw any firm conclusions," Larsson added.