BGU researchers develop nano-polymer therapy to reverse heart damage

When endothelial cells become inflamed, they produce a molecule called “E-selectin,” which brings white blood cells to the area and causes plaque accumulation in the arteries.

Ben Gurion University (photo credit: WWW.PIKIWIKI.ORG.IL)
Ben Gurion University
(photo credit: WWW.PIKIWIKI.ORG.IL)
A new therapy to help prevent heart failure and treat atherosclerosis by using a biomedical polymer to reduce arterial plaque and cardiovascular inflammation has been developed by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.
Atherosclerosis – hardening and narrowing of the arteries – causes an average 56 million deaths each year around the world, according to the 2015 Lancet Global Burden of Disease Report.
Atherosclerosis begins with damage to the endothelium – the cellular lining of arteries that keeps vessels toned and smooth and maintains blood flow. The condition is caused by smoking, high blood pressure or high levels of blood cholesterol. The resulting damage leads to plaque formation.
When endothelial cells become inflamed, they produce a molecule called “E-selectin,” which brings white blood cells 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 BGU’s Department of Clinical Biochemistry and Pharmacology.
The innovative nano-polymer has several advantages. First, it reverses arterial damage and improves the heart muscle. There are currently several other treatment options for atherosclerosis, but none of those reverse arterial damage and improve the heart muscle.
The polymer on the other hand, targets only damaged tissue without harming healthy tissue, so it has no side effect, unlike statins, the leading medication used for treating atherosclerosis.
Patented and in pre-clinical 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 Tel Aviv University cardiology Prof. Jonathan Leor, head of Sheba Medical Center’s Cardiovascular Research Institute and collaborator with David on the research.
“The myocardial function of the treated mice was greatly improved. There was less inflammation and a significant decrease in the thickness of the arteries,” said Leor.
“We achieved an adherence level similar to that of an antibody, which may explain the strong beneficial effect we observed,” added David.
David and Leor suggest that this polymer-based therapy could also be helpful to people with diabetes, hypertension and other age-related conditions. “As such, the new polymeric therapy may have life-changing benefits for millions of people,” they said.
“We are now seeking a pharmaceutical company to bring our polymer therapy through the next stages of drug development and ultimately to market,” added Dr. Ora Horovitz, senior vice president of business development at BGN Technologies, BGU’s technology and commercialization company. “We believe that this therapy has the potential to help a great number of people.”