Israeli researchers say they have new way to combat heart disease, stroke
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Israeli researchers say they have new way to combat heart disease, stroke

Ben-Gurion U and Sheba Medical Center scientists announce creation of nano-polymer that may be better than statins

Illustrative photo of doctors on their way to an emergency room, October 31, 2012. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of doctors on their way to an emergency room, October 31, 2012. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Sheba Medical Center said they have have developed a way to treat atherosclerosis and prevent heart failure with a new biomedical polymer that reduces arterial plaque and inflammation in the cardiovascular system.

Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease causes 56 million deaths annually worldwide, according to the 2015 Lancet Global Burden of Disease Report. Arteries are lined by a thin layer of cells called the endothelium which keep them toned and smooth and maintain blood flow. Atherosclerosis begins with damage to the endothelium and is caused by high blood pressure, smoking or high cholesterol. The resulting damage leads to plaque formation.

When endothelial cells become inflamed, they produce a molecule called E-selectin that brings white blood cells (monocytes) to the area and causes plaque accumulation in the arteries.

“Our E-selectin-targeting polymer reduces existing plaque and prevents further plaque progression and inflammation, preventing arterial thrombosis, ischemia, myocardial infarction, and stroke,” said Prof. Ayelet David of the BGU Department of Clinical Biochemistry and Pharmacology in a statement.

BGU's Prof. Ayelet David (Photo Credit: Dani Machlis/BGU)
BGU’s Prof. Ayelet David (Dani Machlis/BGU)

This new nano-polymer has several advantages, the researchers said. First, it reverses arterial damage and improves the heart muscle. At present, there are several available treatment options for atherosclerosis, but no other therapy reverses arterial damage and improves the heart muscle. Also, the polymer targets only damaged tissue and does not harm healthy tissue so it has no side effect — unlike statins, which are currently the leading medication used for treating atherosclerosis.

Patented and in preclinical stage, the new polymer has been tested on mice with positive results. In a study that has been submitted for publication, the researchers treated atherosclerotic mice with four injections of the new biomedical polymer and tested the change in their arteries after four weeks.

“We were stunned by the results,” said Prof. Jonathan Leor, director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute of the Sheba Medical Center and professor of cardiology at Tel Aviv University, who collaborated with David on the research study. “The myocardial function of the treated mice was greatly improved; there was less inflammation and a significant decrease in the thickness of the arteries.”

“We achieved an adherence level similar to that of an antibody, which may explain the strong beneficial effect we observed,” said David.

David and Leor suggested that this polymer-based therapy can also be helpful to people with diabetes, hypertension and other age-related conditions, impacting the lives of millions of people.

“We are now seeking a pharmaceutical company to bring our polymer therapy through the next stages of drug development and ultimately to market,” said Dr. Ora Horovitz, senior vice president of business development at BGN Technologies, BGU’s technology and commercialization company.

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