Life-threatening side effects of approved drugs often affect the heart. “And so it is that for example the antibiotic Erythromycin leads to sudden cardiac death in one out of 1,000 patients”, states DZHK-researcher Prof. Thomas Eschenhagen. Also antiallergic agents, psychotropic drugs or antimalarials can throw the heart out of rhythm, many of the new tumor drugs can attack the heart muscle. Therefore, before approval, new drugs have to be extensively tested for their effect on the heart.
The researches now want to move these tests to the Petri dish. Of help is the method of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS). With this technique human cells can be transformed back to their original form, the stem cells. From stem cells, scientists can then grow any human tissue or whole organs.
Eschenhagen’s team at the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) specializes in cardiac myocytes. The researches have succeeded in growing iPS heart cells in orderly, highly organized compounds. These come very close to the structure of real heart tissue. In the context of DZHK research projects, the scientists essentially want to find out whether these tissues can one day heal diseased hearts. Also, the twitching heart muscle strips are equally suited for drug testing. “Only in such models can we determine how active pharmaceutical ingredients affect the power of the heart - the most important side effect of drugs”, says pharmacologist Eschenhagen. The researchers also hope that the validity of human tissue is of greater value than that of an animal organism.
The four participating research groups, two of them from Great Britain, now want to examine a selection of drugs in several blinded, comparative standard iPS cell tests and in the artificial heart tissues. Eventually, the best method of drug testing is to be transferred into the pharmaceutical companies’ routine operations. While this will not completely replace animal testing, the researchers hope that it will help to significantly reduce it.
The British NC3Rs connects academic researchers, small and medium-sized enterprises and the pharmaceutical industry. 3Rs stands for Replacement, Reduction and Refinement of animal use for scientific purposes. The NC3Rs initiatives are supported by large pharmaceutical companies.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Eschenhagen, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE), Institute of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, email@example.com
Christine Vollgraf, German Centre for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK e. V.), public relations, p.: +49 30 4593 7102, Christine.Vollgraf(at)dzhk.de