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Scientists Discover Possible Cure for Certain Heat-Related Deaths

Could one pill, taken 10 minutes before exercise, be 100 percent effective at preventing a certain type of heat-related death for student-athletes?

While said pill hasn't been tested yet on humans, studies with mice have shown promise, according to a study published online Sunday in the journal Nature Medicine.

The pill contains a compound known as AICAR (5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide ribonucleoside), which was recently shown by Salk Institute researchers to slow muscle fatigue and boost muscle endurance without exercise. That's earned it the nickname "exercise in a pill," according to Dr. Susan Hamilton, one of the study's authors and the chair of molecular physiology and biophysics at the Baylor College of Medicine.

Hamilton had been studying a genetic disorder known as malignant hyperthermia, which, in mice, causes them to die after exercising in a hot room, even for a short period of time.

Combine the two, and...

"When we gave AICAR to the (heat-sensitive) mice, it was 100 percent effective in preventing heat-induced deaths, even when we gave it no more than 10 minutes before the activity," said Hamilton in a statement.

Basically, when someone has malignant hyperthermia, a faulty receptor in his or her body releases calcium into the bloodstream in response to high body temperatures, causing even more calcium to leak out. The calcium leak causes extreme muscle contractions, which ultimately lead to heart or kidney failure, then death.

AICAR targets that faulty receptor, decreasing the calcium leak, according to the study. Without the calcium leak, someone with malignant hyperthermia won't start experiencing muscle contractions, and won't be at risk for heart or kidney failure.

Hamilton specifically mentioned student-athletes and soldiers as two groups of people who could benefit from such a finding, if it ends up applying to humans.

"We were attempting to identify an intervention, something that could be used prophylactically to protect these sensitive individuals without significant side effects," she said.

She stressed, however, that more research was needed before determining if AICAR would be a suitable preventative measure for humans.

The implications for this finding could be enormous for student-athletes, assuming that it ends up proving effective in humans. Last summer, three student-athletes died within a week, all due to heat-related deaths.

It's important to stress that AICAR was only proven to prevent heat-related deaths specifically tied to malignant hyperthermia. The rate of malignant hyperthermia in humans is unknown, according to the Malignant Hyperthermia Association of the United States, but it identifies Wisconsin, Nebraska, West Virginia, and Michigan as "high-incidence areas." They did not identify why those areas were considered high-incidence, however.

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