Heat stroke, a condition caused by prolonged exposure to temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, is common among athletes, the elderly, and even U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what if the deadly condition could be avoided simply by taking a pill?
A previous study of the so-called “couch potato pill,” or AICAR, found it built muscle and increased endurance in mice without the need for exercise. Now scientists believe that same medication could ward off heat stroke as well.
In a study published Jan. 8 in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers tested the drug on people who have a genetic disorder called malignant hyperthermia that places them at high risk for heat stroke, regardless of temperature. This disorder is associated with a mutation in the RYR1 gene, which causes uncontrolled muscle contractions and increases in body temperature, typically induced by certain drugs such as general anesthesia.
Mice with this mutation who exercise in a hot room will suffer the hallmarks of heat stroke and die — but researchers found that when the mice were given AICAR, they were able to avoid those ill effects.
While more research is needed and RYR1 mutations only account for a small percentage of heat stroke cases in the general human population, Robert Dirksen, a study author at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, N.Y., said AICAR might someday offer broader protection, adding, “Our study takes an important first step towards developing a new drug therapy that may be part of the standard treatment regimen for heat stroke.”
Each year about 300 people die from heat stroke according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.