Groundbreaking N.B.-led study helps heart patients breathe easier – New Brunswick

A groundbreaking, all-Canadian study led by a New Brunswick researcher will allow heart failure patients around the world to breathe more easily.

Patients with heart failure and hypertension often rank breathlessness among their chief complaints, according to Dr. Keith Bruntm, an assistant professor of pharmacology at Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick in Saint John.

Brunt co-wrote the study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine with Dr. Jeremy Simpson of the University of Guelph.

“It’s the one thing patients want to get back,” Brunt said. “The feeling of not having enough air keeps you from doing basic things, like going to get groceries or playing with your grandkids.”

The study found using hormone-suppressing drugs that cross the blood-brain barrier, reaching the part of the brain responsible for respiratory control, can resolve the shortness of breath experienced by most patients.

“It’s kind of a big deal,” Brunt said.

Best of all: the drugs they tested are already on the market.

That the drugs are already available and already generic, is “one of the most exciting things [about the research], and why we got into this top journal,” Brunt said.

Pinpointing cause of breathlessness

Scientists have long known that as heart failure progresses, the diaphragm — the main muscle we use to breathe —   becomes overworked.

But the reason why wasn’t entirely understood.

The team discovered that in heart patients, hormones from the heart and kidney travel to the brain, confusing the areas of the brain that regulate breathing.

Assistant Dalhousie Medicine professor Keith Brunt, with graduate student Kenneth D’Souza in part of the Dal Medicine New Brunswick lab in Saint John. (Submitted by Erinor Jacob-Levine)

The diaphragm then goes into overdrive, causing a crippling sensation of shortness of breath, or “air hunger.” The study found the hormones norepinephrine and angiotensin, found in high levels in people with heart…

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