Investigators from Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust and the National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI) recently worked on an international research collaboration which could lead to better treatments for both heart disease and certain cancers.
The research, partly funded by the British Heart Foundation, discovered the Wars 2 gene, which is responsible for blood vessel formation (known as angiogenesis).
The study was led by Professor Stuart Cook, director of the genetics and genomics group in the Royal Brompton cardiovascular biomedical research unit. Trust consultant Dr Rizwan Ahmed and Dr Francesco Pesce from the NHLI also worked on the study, which was recently published in the journal ‘Nature Communications’.
Researchers found that when they turned off Wars 2 in rats and zebrafish it reduced blood vessel growth in both the heart and the rest of the body, demonstrating that Wars 2 is vital in blood vessel formation. The heart needs a constant blood supply to pump around the body; reduced supply can lead to a number of illnesses, including coronary heart disease.
Identifying the gene means that researchers can now test new molecules to enhance its effect on blood supply to the heart. For certain cancers however, new treatments might focus on blocking the gene’s action, as cancerous tumours rely on blood supply to grow and proliferate.
Professor Cook highlights the significance of the discovery: “Finding a way to control angiogenesis not only provides a target for the development of anti-cancer therapies, but may also prove useful in similarly starving abnormal blood vessel growth elsewhere in the body, like in diabetic eye disease.”