Fatty acids may lead to first heart failure treatments

With the start of the New Year, many Americas are resolving to cut back their fat intake. However, some fats are essential as part of a healthy diet and may even lead to ground-breaking treatments in heart disease.

In a National Institutes of Health-funded project, researchers from Penn State, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Rochester Medical Center will be studying omega-3 fatty acids and their use in preventing and treating a certain type of heart failure.

According to co-principle investigator Gregory Shearer, associate professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State, over half of all heart failure diagnoses are diastolic heart failure. “Heart failure occurs when the heart pumps blood inadequately, leading to reduced blood flow, cell death and lower oxygen levels for the patient,” said Shearer.

Shearer, who is also Social Science Research Institute co-funded faculty member, further explained that diastolic heart failure is caused by fibrosis, or stiffening of the heart muscle, which leads to the impaired filling of blood in the heart. “Unfortunately, there are no effective treatments that can help patients with this type of heart failure,” he said.

During the four-year project, researchers will be studying a specific omega-3 fatty acid and how it affects diastolic heart failure. “There are two major types of oil found in cold water fish, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid),” said Shearer. “Previously, we discovered EPA had more preventative effects on animals with diastolic heart failure, so now we are looking into finding out why.”

In addition, the recent discovery of a receptor in the heart may aid in the effectiveness of EPA. During the study, the research team will be giving animals with and without a receptor in their heart EPA-only diets to determine the effectiveness of the receptor on their heart failure diagnosis.

The researchers will also be examining data from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), a medical research study involving more than 6,000 men and women from six communities in the United States. MESA contains data on cardiovascular disease and the risk factors that predict progression. “We’ll be analyzing the data to find evidence that EPA is protective for heart failure in humans as well,” Shearer explained.

The researchers hope their findings can be used to both prevent and treat diastolic heart failure. “This type of heart failure in particular is becoming more prevalent, and currently there are no treatment options. Our approach, in which we target the EPA receptor with an EPA-rich diet, will be the first therapy of its kind for this type of heart failure,” said Shearer.

Other co-principle investigators on the project are Timothy O’Connell, assistant professor of integrative biology and physiology at the University of Minnesota; and Robert Block, associate professor of public health sciences at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

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