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New VCU study aims to improve recovery after a heart attack

The study will explore why lowering inflammation helps patients recover from a heart attack. 

Image of two small heart side by side Getty Images

RICHMOND, Va. (June 8, 2022) — A study based at Virginia Commonwealth University will assess how medicine that reduces inflammation can prevent heart failure among patients suffering a severe heart attack. 

The study, supported by a $3.1 million R01 grant from the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, is titled "Prevention of Heart Failure with IL-1 Blockade: A Mechanistic Study." It builds on previous studies at VCU that demonstrated improved health and well-being among patients with heart disease who took an anti-inflammatory drug called anakinra. 

The research team is co-led by Benjamin Van Tassell, Pharm.D., vice chair for clinical research and a professor in the VCU School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science, and Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D., who served as vice chair of the Division of Cardiology at the VCU School of Medicine and will join the faculty at University of Virginia in July. 

The study will evaluate patients who experienced recent heart attacks using treadmill tests, cardiac MRIs and blood tests. Researchers will look for signs of where and how the patients’ hearts show injury or scarring. Follow-up visits after one year will assess if patients taking the medication show signs of heart failure. 

In the past few years, Abbate and Van Tassell have led multiple clinical trials using anakinra, a drug originally developed to treat rheumatoid arthritis to target a specific type of inflammation driven by a protein called interleukin-1. 

In the VCU researchers’ 2020 study of 99 patients with severe heart attacks, those who were treated with anakinra experienced less inflammation during their heart attack and had a lower chance of developing heart failure. The current study will explore why lowering inflammation helps patients recover from a heart attack. 

In a separate 2016 study of 60 patients with a recent hospitalization for heart failure, those who received treatment achieved lower levels of inflammation and were able to exercise longer than patients who did not receive treatment. In the course of six months, only one patient receiving long-term anti-inflammatory treatment went back to the hospital. Nearly a third of the patients who did not receive the anti-inflammatory treatment were hospitalized in the same time period.

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