Australian researchers say they've figured out a conundrum that's been a mystery since the dawn of time - how to mend a broken heart.
The landmark study by Monash University has for the first time uncovered a way to prevent and reverse damage caused by broken-heart syndrome, also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
The syndrome causes a weakening of the left ventricle, the heart's main pumping chamber and is brought on by stressful emotional triggers often following traumatic events - such as the death of a loved one or a family separation.
The condition mimics a heart attack with chest pain, shortness of breath and irregular heartbeat.
There's no standard treatment for broken-heart and while death is rare, heart failure occurs in about 20 per cent of patients, with limited therapeutic options.
Using mouse models, the pre-clinical study showed the cardioprotective benefit of a drug called Suberanilohydroxamic acid, or SAHA, dramatically improved cardiac health and reversed the broken-heart.
Researchers used SAHA to target genes and is a world first for Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
SAHA which is already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration because it's used to treat cancer.
It works by providing a protective benefit to genes.
Monash Professor Sam El-Osta said the study showed the drug not only slowed cardiac injury, but also reversed the damage caused to the stressed heart.
In western countries Takotsubo occurs almost exclusively in women, especially after menopause, with new research suggesting that up to eight per cent of women suspected of having a heart attack may have this disorder.
The precise cause isn't known but experts think that surging stress hormones essentially flood the heart, triggering changes in heart muscle cells or coronary blood vessels (or both) that prevent the left ventricle from contracting effectively.
This causes the heavy-achy-feeling you get in the chest which can be mistaken as a heart attack.
Most patients recover fully within two months but the bad news is that along the way some patients suffer from significant heart failure and other complications.
"This pre-clinical study describes a new standard in preventative and therapeutic potential using a cardioprotective drug that targets genes in the heart," Professor El-Osta said.
The team is committed to the research of women's health recognising the uneven sex prevalence of almost 9:1 (female to male).
The paper is published in the journal Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy.
Australian Associated Press