Atherosclerosis is a prime pathway to heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. In fact, one in every five deaths recorded in 2021 was due to cardiovascular disease, much of which was caused by atherosclerosis. The thickening and hardening of arteries due to plaque buildup causes the blood vessels to narrow and block blood flow. That leads to the chronic inflammation that causes cardiac events due to atherosclerotic plaque rupture or erosion.
But what if we could lower that inflammation and cut those cardiac incidents off at the pass? Last week, The Texas Heart Institute announced that it had received a two-year, $1.14 million grant from The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to develop a novel, first-in-class drug to treat the cardiovascular disease that arises from atherosclerosis.
“Given the sobering mortality statistics associated with heart disease, a novel therapy that could change disease trajectory and delay or prevent events associated with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease would be a significant improvement to current treatment regimens,” Dr. Darren G. Woodside, vice president for research, senior investigator, and director of the Flow Cytometry and Imaging Core at The THI, says in a press release.
The most common way to prevent an adverse event is through prescribing patients a statin drug, which lowers lipids. There is ample evidence that this isn’t enough to prevent an incident and most current treatments for atherosclerosis are targeted at helping patients only after plaque rupture has already occurred.
The new technology being developed by THI is focused on a new strategy that will suppress white blood cell activation within atherosclerotic plaques before plaque rupture can take place.
Woodside’s co-principal investigator is Dr. Ronald J. Biediger, director of Medicinal Chemistry at THI. Alongside other members of the Molecular Cardiology Research Laboratories at THI, the two doctors are responsible for the technologies that could lead to drug development.
“If successful, our approach would represent a first-in-class therapeutic, as no drugs marketed today take advantage of this specific strategy of targeting integrin signaling through Syk,” says Dr. Woodside, referring to the intracellular protein important to the production of interleukin.
This is just the latest news THI has to celebrate. Earlier this month, the organization received a $32 million donation received a $32 million donation from a patient — the largest charitable donation in its history. Shortly after that news came out, the institute announced a new partnership with the University of Houston Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine that allows those UH medical students to join a clinical rotation at The Texas Heart Institute. The alliance means valuable insights and experience with both inpatient and outpatient cardiology for UH's future doctors.
Dr. Joseph Rogers, president and CEO of THI, shared on the Houston Innovators Podcast his dedication to THI's 60-year legacy and continuing to find new ways to reach heart health care patients.
"Despite all of the advances, cardiovascular disease is still one of the largest killers of Americans. It actually kills more Americans than all types of cancer combined," Rogers says on the show.
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