MONTGOMERY, Texas, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- The maker of a nicotine-based drug to help heart patients announced it has filed a patent application to develop its product into an alternative treatment to build muscle mass, potentially replacing dangerous steroids and crash diet regimens.
Endovasc Ltd. said its drug, Angiogenix, which is designed to grow new blood vessels in patients with blocked arteries, also could be developed into a treatment that could strengthen the atrophied muscles of stoke victims.
"We know the drug is a robust recruiter of not only blood vessels but stem cells," Dr. David Summers, Endovasc chief executive officer, told United Press International. "Stem cells in animals have the capability of morphing into different kind of tissue."
Further testing could develop a nicotine-based drink or patch that would help athletes enhance muscle mass during workouts, Summers said. Such a treatment could provide a safer approach to muscle enhancement, as anabolic steroids have been linked to heart and liver damage after long-term use. Anabolic steroids have been banned in international athletic competitions after athletes were caught using the drugs to enhance strength and speed.
Summers said the levels of nicotine in Angiogenix and other nicotine-based drugs are not harmful to heart muscle.
The discovery of the potential new treatment took place during animal tests conducted earlier this year to determine the effectiveness of Angiogenix in repairing damaged blood vessels, he said. Researchers at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., performed the tests. The animals regrew blood vessels in blood-starved areas of their legs. The tests also showed a four-fold increase in the migration of stem cells in the animals, and these stem cells were capable of developing into muscle and cartilage, he said.
Dr. John Cooke, director of Stanford's vascular biology laboratory, invented the Angiogenix treatment for use in treating damaged heart tissue, a discovery he said nobody expected. "It was totally counterintuitive," he told UPI, referring to the nicotine experiments.
Researchers had expected nicotine would hurt the growth of new vessels, but the tests showed low doses of nicotine stimulated this growth, Cooke explained, adding although he has not seen any data showing the drug has applications for muscle development, the company did discuss the concept with him.
During tests at Columbia University, the drug helped improve blood flow in animals after the researchers artificially induced ischemia in the animals. Cardiac ischemia is a condition caused by a lack of blood supply to the heart. By growing new blood vessels in the heart, Angiogenix can help patients battle against cardiovascular disease, and possibly prevent significant damage to the heart muscle.
According to a statement, Endovasc officials said they hope to begin testing Angiogenix for use in repairing damaged hearts by the fourth quarter of this year with about 75 patients at the Arizona Heart Institute in Phoenix and possibly the Texas Heart Institute in Houston.
Company officials are hoping to gain approval of the drug as a neutraceutical -- a food or beverage with health applications -- within the next few months, which would allow Angiogenix to be developed as a drink, patch or other over-the-counter product for use in building muscle mass.
Dr. Charles Murray, associate professor of pathology at the University of Washington in Seattle, said the idea of using nicotine for this type of therapy seems unusual, at least on the surface.
"It seems very strange to me," Murray told UPI. "You can imagine that Philip Morris would be very happy to hear something like this." However, he agreed nicotine could help develop skeletal muscle. "It is possible growing muscle in the presence of nicotine will have an effect like more frequent usage," he said.
(Reported by David Jones, UPI Science News, in Newark, N.J.)