(Stanford University Medical Center) Investigators at the Stanford University School of Medicine have learned the signal that tumor cells display on their surfaces to protect themselves from being devoured by the immune system also plays a role in enabling atherosclerosis, the process underlying heart attacks and strokes.
A biological drug capable of blocking this so-called "don't eat me" signal is now being tested in clinical trials in cancer patients. The same agent, the investigators found, was able to prevent the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque in several mouse models of cardiovascular disease. If this success is borne out in human studies, the drug could be used to combat cardiovascular disease -- the world's No. 1 killer -- and do so by targeting not mere risk factors such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, but the actual lesions bearing direct responsibility for cardiovascular disease: atherosclerotic plaques.
"It seems that heart disease may be driven by our immune system's inability to 'take out the trash,'" said Nicholas Leeper, MD, associate professor of vascular surgery and of cardiovascular medicine.[Click the title, above, to post a comment.]