Doctors around the world treat millions of patients for a heart condition called atrial fibrillation. Researchers say the number is only getting higher. As our Andrew Sorensen tells us, a new drug may be the key to treating the condition if it can avoid the major setbacks of other atrial fibrillation drugs.
UTICA, N.Y. -- Working at the Mohawk Valley Heart Institute, Cardiac Electrophysiology Director Thor Markwood treats about three to five people a day for a condition called atrial fibrillation.
"So in a year, it could be hundreds and hundreds," he said. "Afib is a big problem that leads to a lot of hospital admissions, ER visits, health care expenditure. If it's a problem that we could reduce or eliminate, it would save tremendous resources and it would be greatly beneficial for patients."
It's essentially an irregular heartbeat. But researchers at the Masonic Medical Research Laboratory say treating the condition has been quite the puzzle.
"We have drugs that are effective, but they're not very safe, and those drugs that are safe are not very effective," MMRL Cardiac Research Institute Executive Director Charles Antzelevitch said.
Dr. Antzelevitch says they're finally getting close to a solution.
"We have now come to a combination of drugs that is very effective in preventing the development of atrial fibrillation," he said.
The lab has been studying this phenomena for about 12 years, but with America's rapidly aging population, it's becoming a race against the clock.
"We estimate that about 2.7 million Americans are affected and the prevalence is increasing rather dramatically because atrial fibrillation increases with age," Antzelevitch explained.
Their new problem is that the study of the new drug has hit a snag.
"It's not accruing patients quickly. I think our site is not the only site that's struggled to enroll," said Markwood.
Antzelevitch says he expects they can meet their quota to start human trials in the next six months with revised requirements, but the product so far only tested on stem cells has a long way to go.
"So the question is, when you administer those drugs to people, can you reduce or eliminate atrial fibrillation in a beating human heart?" Markwood asked.
Doctors seem confident the answer is yes, but whether their hypothesis holds true will have to be determined in their trials.
If the current phase of the study is successful, doctors say it still may be a few years before the FDA approves the drug for general use.