Researchers test therapy that could limit damage after heart attack

Published: Apr. 21, 2017 at 6:52 PM EDT
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The CDC says more than half a million Americans have their first heart attack every year.

Right now, researchers are testing a cutting-edge therapy that could limit permanent damage to heart muscles.

Patients get supersaturated oxygen therapy in addition to angioplasty or stents.

59-year-old Tim France is reminiscing about a 500-mile hike he did with his son three years ago. He exercises, eats well, and doesn’t smoke. Then, one day on the golf course, something changed everything.

Tim said, “As I was walking from the fifth to the sixth hole, you have to walk up a hill, and that’s when I felt a pain in my chest. Right in the middle of my chest, and it's like, well, this is not good.”

Tim was rushed into the care of Dr. John Harrington at Scripps Memorial Hospital, who invited Tim to be part of the supersaturated oxygen therapy trial.

Dr. Harrington said, “We increase the oxygen content of the blood by five to seven times, and then that is infused back into the patient, directly into the major artery of the heart.”

In early phases of the trial, heart muscle damage went down by 26 percent.

“The sooner that you open the artery that has interrupted blood flow to the muscle, the less damage is done," said Dr. Harrington. "I use the analogy of a house fire. The sooner you call the fire department, the sooner the fire is out, the less structural damage is done.”

Tim had MRI’s at five and thirty days after the procedure.

Tim said, “I feel as well now as I did before the heart attack, and I’m thinking that part of it has to do with that study.”

Research into supersaturated oxygen therapy began in 2002.

It’s now in phase three clinical trial, the last phase before results and data are put together and presented to the FDA.

Doctors have treated 86 of the 100 patients they need for the trial. They expect to end the trial in two to three months.




REPORT: MB #4247

BACKGROUND: According to the CDC, more than half a million Americans have their first heart attack every year. A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked, most often by a build-up of fat, cholesterol and other substances, which form a plaque in the arteries that feed the heart. The interrupted blood flow can damage or destroy part of the heart muscle. Common symptoms and signs of a heart attack include pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back, nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain. They also include shortness of breath, cold sweat, fatigue, and lightheadedness or sudden dizziness. Risk factors are age (men over 45 and women over 55 have higher chances), being a smoker, having high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, family history, and stress. But even those who live a healthy lifestyle can suffer a heart attack. (Source:

TREATMENT: Supersaturated Oxygen Therapy is currently under investigation as a new emergency treatment to be administered right after a heart attack. "Blood needs to get to the capillaries downstream to supply the muscle," says Frances Wood, M.D., a WakeMed cardiologist. That's what Supersaturated Oxygen therapy is designed to do. A wire mesh stent is placed in the vessel to keep it open and expand the blocked heart artery. Although blood flow is restored in that artery, oxygen in the blood may struggle to fill the tiny capillaries. Hospital saline fills one chamber and is then sprayed into a high concentration of oxygen. Then, it's mixed with the patient's own blood and delivered directly into the coronary artery for one hour. During a heart attack, tiny capillaries swell, restricting blood flow. As those cells absorb the new oxygenated plasma, the swelling shrinks back and improves blood flow to surrounding tissue. Previous clinical trials showed a 26 percent reduction in the size of heart tissue damage compared to patients who received standard care alone.


PREVENTATIVE MEASURES: If you are fearful of having a heart attack, there are some preventative measures you can take to reduce your chances. Eat a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, and less salty, sweet, and saturated fats. Taking aspirin every day can reduce the risk of heart attacks, and being smart about your cholesterol makes a difference.



Keith Darce