GCU aims to develop new heart disease drug

08 February 2012

GCU aims to develop new heart disease drug

The compounds may reduce fatty deposits around the heart

Work to identify a new drug which may boost the body’s ability to reverse the arterial accumulation of ‘bad’ cholesterol that leads to heart disease has begun at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).

GCU scientists are testing a number of compounds which they believe will help the body remove the fatty deposits which form as ‘plaque’ on artery walls and can lead to angina and heart attacks. At present, there are no drugs which do this.

Coronary heart disease is Scotland’s second biggest killer, responsible for 15% of all deaths.

Research team leader Professor Annette Graham recently received a grant of £90,407 from national charity Heart Research UK to fund her research for two years.

Coronary artery disease is caused by the accumulation of the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol within fatty deposits on artery walls. The presence of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol in the bloodstream can help the body reverse these damaging deposits, and therefore reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

The research team’s earlier work has identified a protein which can help in this process. The researchers are now looking to identify a compound which will either increase cellular levels of this protein, or make what is present more effective.

Statin drugs, which lower the amount of cholesterol in the blood stream, are widely available. However, there is currently no drug available which can reverse the build-up of ‘plaque’. 

Professor Graham said: “We urgently need effective treatments which can reverse the build-up of fatty substances in the arteries. I’d like to thank Heart Research UK for the opportunity to progress with this work.

“Interestingly, one of the compounds we will test is a drug already in development for the treatment of anxiety.  Early clinical trials of the drug [for anxiety] did not produce any unwanted side effects or withdrawal symptoms, which is encouraging.”

Prof Graham’s team will study cells loaded with ‘bad’ cholesterol, known as foam cells, in tissue culture dishes in the laboratory. The team aim to identify the chemicals most effective at enhancing cholesterol removal.  

Prof Graham received a translational research grant from Heart Research UK, a special award designed to bridge the gap between scientific research and patient care.

Barbara Harpham, National Director at Heart Research UK, said: “We fund research projects that have the quickest turnaround from ‘lab to the patient’. This project aims to achieve exactly that and we wish Professor Graham and her research team all the best with this pioneering study.”   

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