Root Cause of Heart Attack Probed

Stem cell heart research could identify heart attack cause

(RxWiki News) It sounds straight out of a science fiction movie, but doctors hope to identify the root cause of heart attacks and coronary artery disease through the nation's first heart-based "disease in a dish" research.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded the Scripps Translational Science Institute of San Diego and Sangamo BioSciences a $7.9 million grant to use stem cells to recreate participants' own artery-lining heart cells in a Petri dish.

"The research could prompt new types of drugs."

Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, will lead the research, which will also feature genome editing as a means to discover the true cause of heart attacks.The study could provide clues about how to prevent heart attacks, the No. 1 cause of death among Americans.

As part of the study, investigators will use mature cell types such as skin cells in a dish, combined with the genome editing technology to potentially direct certain cells away from a disease state.

Researchers already know that the human genome’s 9p21 “gene desert” region, possessed by everyone and named for its lack of genes, has a strong link to the development of heart disease. Yet they don't understand what occurs in that area to cause cells to become diseased in some people.

Dr. Topol said the study is the first to work to understand how the region works, and what genes or parts of the genome may interact to make the cells become diseased. This is particularly difficult since there are no genes in that region.

Scientists will create artery-lining cells for 1,000 patients who currently have coronary artery disease, a precursor to heart attack, and another 1,000 who have managed to live to at least age 80 without any heart disease or major illness.

Participants will volunteer skin and blood cells, which will be reprogrammed to create induced pluripotent stem cells. This will give them the ability to become any cell type in the body. Scientists will then transform them into three specific cell types of heart artery-lining cells including smooth muscle cells, endothelial cells and cardio myocytes.

Researchers also will use existing data on genome-wide association studies. They hope to discover whether changing a person's genetics can convince the cells not to acquire disease. Figuring out the root defect in the genome could lead to the development of new drugs or the identification of existing ones that could help a person's cell revert away from the development of coronary artery disease.

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Review Date: 
July 22, 2011