March 14 (UPI) — Breast cancer patients may soon have relief from dangerous cardiovascular side effects of chemotherapy, a new study says.

A diabetes drug can also help some patients who suffer heart problems after taking a common breast cancer drug known as trastuzumab, according to a study published Thursday in Circulation.

“We could use this method to find out who’s going to develop chemo-related toxicity and who’s not,” Joseph Wu, a researcher at the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute and study author, said in a news release. “And now we have an idea about the cardioprotective medications we can give them.”

Up to 20 percent of breast cancer patients have the HER2-positive form of the disease which reacts poorly to trastuzumab. And taking the widely used chemotherapy drug, the researchers say, causes heart problems in 15 percent of people who use it.

“It changes the way the heart cells consume energy,” Wu said.

To fix this problem, the researchers coated heart stem cells from patients with the HER2-positive variant of the disease with AMPK activators. They contain the type 2 diabetes drug called metformin.

After applying the AMPK activators, the stem cells began to pump harder. This suggests that the metformin is responsible for the positive reaction.

This lab discovery, the researchers say, will greatly reduce the time it takes to bring this drug to patients who experience this debilitating condition.

The next step is to test a combination of metformin and trastuzumab on breast cancer patients to see if the results from the first test hold up.

“You can screen them in a dish first,” Wu said. “This will significantly cut the cost of drug development, providing better and more affordable drugs to the population.”

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