Category Archives: Heart

Spiders and erectile dysfunction: a reason to get excited!

google free brazilian wandering spiderFor most people, the sight of a spider isn’t cause for good news. Instead, these eight-legged creatures often bring out the worst in people, causing voices to jump up an octave or two. So it may be surprising that a poisonous spider would prompt excitement from anyone other than a dedicated entomologist. But actually, patients with erectile dysfunction may be pretty excited about the prospects of clinical applications for a particular spider’s venom!

The Brazilian Wandering Spider may be the world’s most toxic spider. With a leg-span of up to five inches, and a deadly neurotoxin on board, this spider is definitely one for your nightmares.

If a man is bitten, one side effect can be a painful erection that lasts for hours, potentially causing permanent damage. But researchers investigated further and extracted a particular toxin (PnTx2-6) from the venom. They found that it increases the availability of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow. In rats with erectile dysfunction, researchers saw promising results!

As the toxin works differently than erectile dysfunction drugs that are on the market today, it’s possible that therapies using this toxin could be effective treatments for erectile dysfunction in patients that haven’t responded to conventional therapies. This isn’t the first time scientists have looked towards venomous animals to provide inspiration for human therapies- read more about tarantula and centipede venom as pain medications, and snake venom for cancer treatments and possible treatments for heart disease. It will be interesting to see if spider venom can help human patients with ED- stay tuned for more research!

New drug reduces blood clots without increasing bleeding risk

iStock_000000529518SmallIt’s pretty likely that you’ve injured yourself at some point or another and experienced a break in your skin that caused bleeding. Skinned knees, paper cuts, hangnails- we’ve all been there. Initially, these injuries can bleed quite a bit, but after a few minutes the bleeding slows and eventually stops.

This is a normal defense mechanism- kind of like your body’s version of a Band-Aid. Platelets clump together to form clots over injuries in order to slow the bleeding and protect your body. But if blood clots form inside veins or arteries, they can slow or even stop blood flow to vital parts of the body and cause serious damage, including heart attacks and strokes.

To prevent or treat blood clots, at-risk patients are usually given blood-thinning drugs. However, these oral medications can spread throughout the body, so the risk of bleeding is also increased.

However, new research could change that. A new drug has proven to be effective in reducing blood clots in dogs and mice without increasing the risk of bleeding! The enzyme in this drug regulates platelet clumping, and it can be injected near the blood clot to work in the desired area without causing unwanted bleeding in other locations.

This type of drug could make a huge difference to patients currently taking blood thinners. The next steps will likely include human trials to determine if results in animals are an indication of the drug’s chances for success in humans. Read more about it here:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26033-targeted-clotbusting-drug-wont-boost-bleeding-risk.html#.U-q-0fldWSp

Reducing cholesterol levels- PERMANENTLY!

stop high cholesterolOver 35 million Americans take daily medications to reduce their cholesterol, and that number continues to increase. But thanks to new research from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the University of Pennsylvania, it’s possible that patients will be able to experience an improved quality of life with a single injection!

By disrupting gene activity in a gene (PCSK9) that regulates cholesterol, researchers were able to permanently reduce cholesterol by 35-40%. First, they targeted the DNA sequence where the gene resides, then created a break in the system, and then used adenovirus to carry the treatment to the liver. In one injection, they were able to permanently change the genome, meaning that the benefits are there forever.

While this treatment is probably at least 5-10 years away for humans, the accomplishment in mice is pretty amazing. The next step in this research is to work with mice that have human-derived liver cells before moving into human studies. Read more about it here:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-10/cholesterol-controlled-for-good-by-gene-therapy-in-mice.html

Shocking discovery from an electric eel!

eel-228748_640Electric eels are fascinating animals, not only because they look pretty cool, but also because they can generate electricity and deliver shocks of up to 600 volts. But they’re not the only fish that can produce electric fields, and recently, research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison has yielded some surprising information about the evolution of this ability- and what it could mean for other species.

Researchers analyzed the genes of the electric eel as well as other electric fish from unrelated families. It appears that there are a limited number of ways to evolve electric organs, and in at least six different fish, their electric organs evolved in the same way.

So… why should we care? By understanding the way electric organs were created through evolution, scientists may be able to gain the information needed to one day create electric organs in humans or other other animals. The zebrafish, a commonly used research animal, may play a role in attempts at this type of modification. If humans were able to have electric organs, they could possibly serve to power pacemakers, neurostimulators, or other implanted medical devices. Read more about it here:

http://www.npr.org/2014/06/26/325246710/a-shocking-fish-tale-surprises-evolutionary-biologists

Surprise, surprise… Viagara efficacy is gender-dependent

iStock_000000357228SmallAlmost 30 years ago, scientists started developing a drug to treat heart failure. They were looking for a drug that would vasodilate arteries, lower blood pressure, and reduce strain on the heart. In clinical trials to determine safety, male participants reported some unexpected side effects… you get the picture. Based on these side effects, researchers switched gears, and Viagara proved to be a very successful drug in the treatment of erectile dysfunction.

It’s no stretch to see what Viagara has done for men. But as doctors now reconsider the drug as a treatment for heart failure, new research shows that taking gender into consideration is really important. By working with a mouse model that mimics heart failure, researchers looked at the difference between females with different estrogen levels. They found that the hormone estrogen affects the potential benefits of the drug. Based on this new research, it seems that the drug only benefits female mice with higher estrogen levels.

The connection between the drug and estrogen levels shouldn’t be ignored. Hopefully this research will result in better gender-specific treatment strategies, and maybe women will get to benefit from Viagara in a completely different way! Read more here:

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/gender_differences_stand_out_in_measuring_impact_of_viagra_as_therapy_for_heart_failure