Researchers at Ben-Gurion University (BGU) and the Sheba Medical Center have developed a new therapy to treat atherosclerosis and prevent heart disease with a new biomedical polymer that reduces arterial plaque and inflammation in the cardiovascular system.
The atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease causes 56 million deaths annually worldwide, according to the 2015 Lancet Global Burden of heart Disease Report. Arteries 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.
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When endothelial cells experience inflammation, they produce a molecule called “E-selectin,” which 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,” says Prof. Ayelet David of the BGU Department of Clinical Biochemistry and Pharmacology.
This innovative nano-polymer has several advantages. 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. Lastly, the polymer targets only damaged tissue and do 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 the preclinical stage, the new polymer has tested on mice with positive results. In a study that has 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,” says 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 Prof. David on this research. “The myocardial function of the treated mice was significantly improved, there were less inflammation and a significant decrease in the thickness of the arteries.”
“We achieved an adherence level to E-Selectin similar to that of an antibody, which may explain the high beneficial effect we observed,” adds Prof. David.
Prof. David and Prof. Jonathan Leor suggest that this polymer-based therapy can also be helpful to people with diabetes, hypertension and other age-related conditions. “As such, the new polymeric treatment may have life-changing benefits for millions of individuals,” the researchers say.
“We are now seeking a pharmaceutical company to bring our polymer treatment through the next stages of drug development and ultimately to market,” says Dr. Ora Horovitz, senior vice president of business development at BGN Technologies (BGN). BGU’s technology transfer and commercialization company. “We believe that this therapy has the potential to help a great number of people.”