Researchers have discovered that a chemical found in bear bile could be used to treat abnormal heart rhythms and help people to recover after a heart attack.
The ursodeoxycholic acid chemical, also known as UDCA, is traditionally used in many Chinese medicines for its ability to dissolve gallstones and reduce cholesterol levels.
However, a study conducted by academics at Imperial College London has found UDCA can also prevent potential heart attacks by stabilising dangerous and irregular heartbeats.
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UCDA works by modifying the electrical properties of myofibroblast cells, which disturb the electrical signals that control the heartbeat.
Myofibrolast cells are commonly found in the foetal heart and disappear soon after birth, emerging again in people who have had a heart attack.
Therefore, the chemical can prevent arrhythmia in the foetus as well as in heart attack patients.
Dr Julia Gorelik, one of the authors of the study, said: “These findings are exciting.
“Our results from the lab suggest that UDCA could help the heart muscle conduct electrical signals more normally.
She added: “We're hoping to set up a clinical trial to test whether these results translate to patients with heart failure.”
UDCA is already used to treat obstetric cholestasis, a condition found in pregnant women, which is linked to sudden death of the foetus.
Although UDCA is a synthesised compound, the chemical is naturally found in bear bile.
Its use in traditional medicines has received criticism from animal campaigners, who have branded its collection as cruel.
The results of the study have been published the in journal ‘Hepatology’.