CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- A new computer model suggests that a chemotherapy drug used to fight bone marrow cancer may prevent deadly heart failure.

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine recently announced this finding based on a new drug screening tool.

According to a release, the tool suggests the drug midostaurin could help to prevent the enlargement of heart muscle cells, which often occurs before heart failure.

Additional testing and research are needed, but researchers say this computer model has demonstrated potential for identifying existing and available drugs that can be repurposed to fight heart failure, a condition that affects millions of people across the country.

“This new computer tool helps us find new uses for old drugs, and it also explains how they may work in the heart,” said Jeffrey J. Saucerman, PhD. “New drugs take decades to develop. We hope this tool will help us find drugs for heart failure that are already known to be safe and effective for other diseases.”

Heart failure is described as a progressive condition, which means it gets worse as time goes on and eventually the heart loses the ability to pump blood.

People may experience several symptoms such as feel fatigue, wheezing, weakness, swollen legs and feet, and ultimately, death.

The release says there are drugs currently used to treat the condition, but more than half of patients with it die within five years of diagnosis, demonstrating an urgent need for new and better treatments.

In order to address this, Saucerman and graduate student Taylor Eggertsen created a computer model of the growth of heart muscle cells prior to failure.

This allows the researchers to run simulations showing how existing drugs could have an impact on that process, which is medically called cardiac hypertrophy.

The release says they screened more than 250 drugs and found 38 that slowed the harmful changes, and the model even allowed them to understand how the drugs were having this effect.

This helped them narrow down the options even further so they could test the most promising drugs.

“Now that we have found interesting drugs in computer simulations and heart muscle cells, we plan to test these drugs in experimental models that are more similar to humans,” said Saucerman, who is part of UVA’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. “This computational treasure hunt for drugs may eventually lead to more options for treating heart failure patients.”

These findings have been published in the British Journal of Pharmacology.