One of the interesting aspects of biomedical research is how often a drug that is designed to treat one disease can be adapted to deal with a completely different one. In this vein, a researcher at Vanderbilt University named David Merryman, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, has been awarded a grant to study whether drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis could also be used to deal with a number of cardiovascular diseases, including heart valve disease, pulmonary hypertension, and heart failure.
The target is a protein called Cadherin-11 (CDH-11) that is an adhesive that binds fibroblast cells. In certain forms of heart disease the protein caused tissue to stiffen, resulting in calcification and the death of parts of the heart tissue. This process often happens as the consequence of a first heart attack and can lead to a second and often more serious cardiovascular event.
One of the drugs being studied is called SDP051, a humanized monoclonal antibody that targets CDH-11, for patients who have rheumatoid arthritis. Merryman and his team have started rodent studies to ascertain whether the drug will have a benefit for heart patients to stave off damage to the heart muscles and hence another heart attack or a case of complete heart failure.
Merryman is also working on a project to see if a failed weight loss drug can treat cardiovascular disease. His third project involves creating a heart valve from reprogrammed stem cells. Such a process would benefit small children with heart diseases or defects who could use a valve that would grow along with them and not have to have multiple surgeries to swap out artificial heart valves as they outgrow them.
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