Scientists Isolate Mystery Substance Linked to High Blood Pressure
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Researchers have isolated and purified a mystery substance they suspect is linked to high blood pressure, an affliction that leaves nearly 60 million Americans at dramatically higher risk of stroke and heart disease, it was announced Thursday.
People with high blood pressure are believed to have increased levels of the substance, which researchers have yet to identify, in their blood.
Isolation of the compound, which appears only in trace amounts, should speed up identification and manufacture of a synthetic version of the substance to be used in future studies, said John Hamlyn, an assistant professor of physiology at the University of Maryland at Baltimore.
″What we think is that having more of it in the circulation may be effectively raising blood pressure,″ said Hamlyn, who has been working to isolate and purify the substance from blood plasma for six years.
Once the substance is identified, synthesized and available for wide study, Hamlyn predicted, it will still be at least eight to 10 years before new relief for sufferers of high blood pressure is available.
Hamlyn presented his research results at a conference of the American Heart Association’s Council on High Blood Pressure Research. The study was conducted with scientists from the Upjohn Co., which also provided funds for the project.
Harvey Gonick, an adjunct professor of medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles who is working in the same field, called Hamlyn’s development a ″major move in the right direction.″
Identification and synthesis of the substance will have extraordinary implications for treatment of disease, he said.
″There’s been a worldwide race ... toward trying to isolate, identify and purify this hormone, and that race is yet to be won,″ said Gonick. ″But he’s made a step in the right direction.″
The substance, which has no name, appears to increase the amount of sodium and calcium in cells, Hamlyn said. Sodium and calcium work together to regulate the contraction of muscle cells in blood vessels. When cells are unable to pump out enough sodium, calcium levels go up and tension in the artery wall increases, causing blood pressure to rise.
But the association between the mystery substance and blood pressure levels has been difficult to investigate because the material appears in trace amounts, said Hamlyn. One metric ton (about 2,200 pounds) of blood plasma typically yields an amount barely visible in the bottom of a test tube, he said.
″No one has been able to measure it very well,″ said Hamlyn, who hopes researchers will be able to identify the material within a year. ″Everything depends on finding out what the substance is.″
Possible strategies for counteracting the substance once it is identified include inhibiting its production, designing a compound to block its effect or accelerating its breakdown in the body, said Hamlyn.