UC Davis researchers have shown more promise in a new approach to heart disease, developing a way to block a key protein rather than targeting high blood pressure or cholesterol.
The experimental agent inhibits C-reactive protein, a biomarker of heart attacks, strokes and chest pain. Results were published online last week in the “International Journal of Cardiology.”
The researchers’ new tack is based on recent studies showing that the body’s inflammatory response is key to development of fatty deposits in blood vessels to heart attacks and strokes.
Patients whose C-reactive protein levels are high are at risk for suffering a heart attack, stroke or sudden death from cardiovascular disease — even if their blood cholesterol and blood pressure are normal, said Ishwarlal Jialal, senior author of the article and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, in a news release.
“There is an urgent need to develop inhibitors that specifically block the biological effects of C-reactive protein,” Jialal said.
Some 15 to 20 percent of heart attacks and strokes occur in patients without well-established risk factors like high blood pressure and blood cholesterol, obesity, lack of regular exercise and cigarette smoking, according to UCD.
The immune system produces CRP to clear dead and disintegrating cells. It is usually found in the blood in trace amounts.
Jialal’s lab successfully used a synthesized peptide, a small protein molecule, to reduce inflammation caused by human CRP injected into rats. Rats’ bodies don’t normally produce the protein, but research elsewhere has shown injecting rats with human CRP increases tissue damage from heart attacks or strokes.
The UCD team has previously reduced CRP levels in cultures of human cells.
The experimental agent is the third known CRP inhibitor under development, according to UCD. Before human trials can take place, the lab plans to conduct five years worth of studies to evaluate the inhibitor’s long-term effects.
— Reach Cory Golden at [email protected] or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden