How Immunomodulatory Drugs May Prevent, Cure Heart Failure
Your immune system may play a role in heart diseases and researchers have suspected this for many years now. In fact, this was something they investigated in the 1960s and they continue to investigate this area of research. One goal is to find new treatments for preventing, treating, and even curing heart failure. Here is what to know about this new and exciting field of medical research.1
What is your immune response?
Most of us are familiar with the cardiorespiratory system. Your lungs take oxygen from the air and get it into your blood system, then pump oxygenated blood to all the tissues and organs of your body. In this way, your heart and lungs work together. There is also a third bodily system involved here and it is called your immune system.
Your immune system is a complex system. It’s a system responsible for keeping you healthy and also responsible for helping you recover after an injury or disease. Your first line of defense is your skin. It keeps germs out of your body. Hairs inside your nose act to filter inhaled particles and germs. The goal is to keep you from inhaling harmful substances into your lungs.2
How does the immune system function?
Your immune system also involves a variety of cells and chemicals. Immune cells called white blood cells are a good example. Say you get a cut on your finger - these cells are sent to the area of the cut. White blood cells called macrophages find and destroy bacteria. They may also release chemicals that cause tissues in the area to become inflamed which begins the healing process.2
Researchers think your heart has its own immune cells. For example, it has its own set of macrophages that play a role in the healing process of an injured heart.2,3
Immune cells leading to heart failure?
They do not do this on purpose as their goal is always to keep your heart tissue strong and healthy. Still, when your immune system is continuously stimulated, it can also cause harm to your heart.
Here I want to give you a couple of examples of how your immune cells may contribute to heart failure. I am going to purposefully oversimplify this process to make the complex seem easier to understand.
Say you have high blood pressure which causes your blood to bang on the walls of your arteries for a day. This stresses your artery walls which causes damage and can initiate an immune response.
In response, your immune system sends specialized cells called white blood cells (WBCs) to the areas of the walls that are damaged. These WBCs release pro-inflammatory chemicals to begin the healing process. In this way, inflammation is good and healthy. It promotes healing.
Untreated high blood pressure
But, let’s say you continue to have high blood pressure and you don't feel any different. Your blood continues to pound on your artery walls day after day and your WBCs continue to pump pro-inflammatory chemicals into your blood system.
Eventually, you will have too many of these chemicals, way more than what is needed. When this happens, these chemicals can actually damage artery walls which may be what leads to things like coronary artery disease (CAD).
CAD and heart attack
Say that over the course of many years you developed CAD and developed a blocked coronary artery. Suppose blood flow through this artery is blocked and you have a heart attack. This means that heart tissue is damaged or dies.
Your immune system responds. For instance, special WBCs called macrophages are sent to the area that is damaged to eat dead or dying cells. This prevents the formation of scar tissue and fibrosis from forming and it also promotes the formation of new blood vessels to feed new heart tissue that forms.
However, macrophages also release pro-inflammatory chemicals which may overwhelm and damage healthy heart tissue. Over time, scar tissue or fibrosis develops and your heart becomes stiff. This makes it a weaker pump and can lead to a diagnosis of heart failure. This process may explain why 63 percent of heart attack patients develop heart failure within six years.1
What is immunomodulatory therapy?
This is a new type of treatment where drugs known as biologics are injected into a person. These biologics are monoclonal antibodies that block the effects of pro-inflammatory chemicals. This prevents them from causing inflammation and further destruction of the heart.3
The hope is immunomodulatory therapy will promote healing of heart tissue, and the ultimate goal is this will prevent heart failure from developing. For those who already have a diagnosis of heart failure, the hope is this will act as a viable treatment for it, and perhaps even a cure.
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