A collaboration between researchers at FIU’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and FIU’s College of Engineering & Computing has earned a patent that could potentially revolutionize how heart disease is treated — and even prevent it in those at highest risk. More than one in three deaths in the U.S. are attributed to cardiovascular disease.
Geneticist Alexander Agoulnik and biomedical engineer Joshua Hutcheson have developed methods to use a novel compound to treat and prevent vascular calcification, an accumulation of bone-hard calcium in diseased artery walls that can combine with cholesterol. Such a mass can block blood flow, or it can rupture to cause a sudden blood clot, leading to heart attacks and strokes. (Unlike cholesterol plaques, calcification generally has no relation to diet and tends to increase with age.)
The work builds on discoveries each researcher made previously in his respective lab as well as in joint studies with scientists at the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health.
“We know that current treatment methods, such as lipid-lowering medications, lower the risk of a cardiovascular event,” Agoulnik said. “However, they do nothing to get rid of existing pathology, and there are currently no effective pharmacotherapies available to prevent or treat vascular calcifications.”
Findings by the pair and postdoctoral associate Hooi Hooi Ng, however, are poised to change that. The researchers are seeking industry partners to move from laboratory investigations to additional studies and clinical trials.
“The goal,” Hutcheson says of the promising approach, “is to return the patient to a normal baseline, or a healthy cardiovascular risk level.”