MONTREAL - A Canadian researcher may have discovered a breakthrough diagnosis - even a cure - for a devastating and deadly disease called pulmonary hypertension.
New research indicates a protein, dubbed PIM-1, is high in patients with the condition. The higher the PIM-1 levels, the more severe the patient's pulmonary hypertension, which narrows and scars pulmonary arteries and can stress the heart.
"The PIM-1 level in healthy patients is almost zero," Dr. Sebastien Bonnet, a researcher the Heart and Stroke Foundation, said in an interview Sunday. "Patients with severe pulmonary hypertension have PIM-1 levels through the roof."
Bonnet explained that somehow the protein makes cells sick. The research is ongoing.
"If you're able to knock down the expression of PIM-1, you'll be killing only the cells that are sick without harming the healthy cells," Bonnet said.
His research uncovered something even more exciting: by blocking the harmful protein, researchers were able to reverse the condition.
For the Quebec-based Bonnet, it's a ray of hope for patients struggling with the disease.
"The treatments now are limited and inefficient and the only way to cure someone with pulmonary hypertension is with a heart and lung transplant," he said.
The new discovery also might make it easier to diagnose the condition.
"This could be as simple as a blood test," he said. "You can just check the (PIM-1) levels."
Pre-clinical trials are now underway and Bonnet is optimistic human clinical trials on a drug cure will begin in a year.
According to the Pulmonary Hypertension Association of Canada, up to 5,000 Canadians have been diagnosed with the disease. Another 5,000 Canadians may be living with the illness and unaware they're sick.