SUNDAY, Jan. 17, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they've developed an experimental treatment for a serious heart condition in dogs that might one day benefit people.
Dogs and humans have similar cardiovascular systems and both can develop dilated cardiomyopathy, also known as "weak heart," according to researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.
The condition causes the heart muscle to become too weak to pump blood throughout the body, and eventually leads to heart failure, according to background notes with the study. It's suspected that malfunctioning proteins cause the heart to weaken.
The cause of dilated cardiomyopathy is unknown, but genetics are believed to play a role, the researchers said. The condition is inherited in many dogs, and 30 percent to 50 percent of cases in people are inherited, the study authors noted.
In this study, the researchers tested an experimental treatment in heart muscle cells from dogs with dilated cardiomyopathy. The therapy consisted of placing a molecule involved in muscle contraction into the cells. The treatment restored normal function in the dogs' heart cells, the researchers found.
"This suggests it's a promising therapeutic approach worth further investigating for the treatment of [dilated cardiomyopathy]," Dr. Lynne O'Sullivan, a clinical cardiologist at Ontario Veterinary College of the University of Guelph, said in a university news release.
The next step is to develop a gene therapy to trigger production of the molecule in heart muscle cells, she and her colleagues said.
The researchers said they also uncovered some problems in the heart muscle that could contribute to dilated cardiomyopathy.
It's important to note, however, that research in animals often isn't replicated in humans.
The study was published in the January issue of the American Journal of Physiology.
In dogs, the condition is most common in large breeds, such as Doberman pinschers, Irish wolfhounds and Great Danes, the researchers said. Often, no symptoms are evident until the disease is advanced.
The American Heart Association has more about dilated cardiomyopathy.