For now, however, the hearts benefiting from diallyl trisulfide belong to mice in the laboratories of Emory University researchers in Atlanta. Researchers there have found that a synthetic, highly purified version of the compound protects the heart in the same way as hydrogen sulfide gas, known for its noxious, rotten-egg odor.
In high concentrations, hydrogen sulfide is a potent poison: Just a few breaths can be fatal. But in small amounts that the body makes, hydrogen sulfide serves several key functions. It reduces inflammation, lowers blood pressure and keeps cells from committing suicide through the awkwardly named process of apoptosis. After a heart attack or heart surgery has interrupted the flow of oxygen-rich blood to tissues, hydrogen sulfide allows oxygen to keep reaching the heart muscle. Unfortunately, hydrogen sulfide gas is unstable and dissipates quickly.
David Lefer, a surgery professor and director of the Cardiothoracic Surgery Research Laboratory at Emory University Hospital Midtown, has spent years studying naturally produced gases that shield hearts from damage. He’s enthusiastic about the therapeutic potential of DATs and other compounds that release hydrogen sulfide gas once they interact with cells.
“We believe that sulfide drugs are ideal for injections in emergencies such as heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular shock and trauma,” Lefer told ABCNews.com. He said he and his team foresee using injectable versions for acute emergencies and oral formulations “for more chronic diseases such as heart failure, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and inflammatory diseases.”
Two of Lefer’s postdoctoral fellows were scheduled today to present findings from mouse studies of hydrogen sulfide-releasing compounds at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions conference in Orlando, Fla.:
- Benjamin Predmore gave mice simulated heart attacks by temporarily blocking their coronary arteries. He then injected purified diallyl sulfide directly into their bodies before allowing blood to reach their heart muscles again. The injections reduced damaged tissue by 61 percent, when compared with untreated animals, Predmore found.
- Kazuhisa Kondo gave mice with simulated heart attacks twice-daily injections of DATs, which also reduced the amount of tissue damage they suffered, Lefer said.
- Kondo mixed NP-1002, a ”novel hydrogen sulfide-releasing drug” into the food of mice with heart failure, a condition in which enlarged, weakened hearts cannot pump oxygen-rich blood to the body. Kondo found that feeding the mice NP-1002 shrank their enlarged hearts.
“We are getting close to clinical trials with hydrogen sulfide,” Lefer said. ”We believe that DATs and NP-1002 are ideal candidates for human testing.” He said NP-1002, which comes as a pill produced by a new biotech company called Sulfagenix, is “currently being investigated in humans in Mexico.”
No drug company is yet producing synthetic DATs, although the natural version can be isolated from crushed garlic and turned into garlic oil. Simply consuming fresh garlic provides “a good dosage of DATs,” which also prohibited growth of cancerous tumors in mouse studies.