Drug derived from dogfish sharks could help heal hearts after heart attacks


Aaron Orlowski

Published on
March 24, 2017

A drug originally derived from the liver of dogfish sharks could heal heart tissues damaged during heart attacks, according to a group of researchers in Maine. No other drug can currently do that, the group said.

The researchers from MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine tested the drug, called MSI-1436, on zebrafish and adult mice, two species separated by 450 million years of evolution. In both cases, the drug stimulated regeneration of tissues.

Zebrafish naturally regenerate almost all their body parts, and when administered MSI-1436, they regenerated tissues even faster. Adult mice have limited regeneration abilities, but the MSI-1436 still showed results, according to a paper the researchers published this month.

The next step is to test the drug on pigs, which have similar hearts to humans. After that, the researchers intend to do human clinical trials, through a spinoff company, Novo Biosciences.

“If it shows similar results in humans, it will be a game-changer for patients who suffer a heart attack and/or are living with heart disease,” MDI Biological Laboratory scientist Viravuth Yin, one of the paper’s authors, said in a press release.

Heart disease kills the 17.5 million people per year, and is the world’s leading cause of death, according to the World Health Organization. Heart attacks cause part of the heart muscle to die, and the scarring that follows affects the heart’s ability to pump blood.

Some clinical trials for a different use of MSI-1436 have shown that people can tolerate the drug at a maximum dose that is five to 50 times higher than what was shown to be effective in the zebrafish and mice.

“The fact that MSI-1436 has been shown to be safe for use in humans shaves years off the drug development process,” Kevin Strange, president of the MDI Biological Laboratory and one of the paper’s authors, said in a press release.

Most regenerative medicine focuses on using stem cells as well as gene and tissue engineering. Despite hundreds of millions of investment dollars, these methods have advanced little. The MDI researchers believe their method of using small molecules to activate innate tissue repair can make headway where other regenerative medicine techniques haven’t.

Such a method has been hindered by lack of knowledge, even though it may be less complex and face fewer regulatory hurdles than other regenerative medicine techniques. Small molecule methods also have fewer related ethical barriers, and the therapy costs less and can be reversed more easily.

Since the molecule crosses the blood-brain barrier, it also could potentially be used to treat brain injuries, the researchers said.

“If we can decode the instruction manual for regeneration in highly regenerative species,” Yin said, “we can use drug therapies to reignite our own dormant regenerative capacity.”

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