Israeli researchers have developed a new therapy to treat atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries) and prevent heart failure, using a new biomedical polymer that reduces arterial plaque and inflammation in the cardiovascular system.

Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease causes 56 million deaths annually worldwide, according to the 2015 Lancet Global Burden of Disease Report.

Arteries are lined by a thin layer of cells, the endothelium, which keep them toned and smooth and maintains blood flow. Atherosclerosis begins with damage to the endothelium, typically caused by high blood pressure, smoking or high cholesterol.

When endothelial cells become inflamed, they produce a molecule called E-selectin, which brings white blood cells (monocytes) to the area. That leads to dangerous plaque buildup in the arteries.

At present, there are several available treatment options for atherosclerosis, but no therapy can reverse arterial damage and improve the heart muscle. An innovative nano-polymer made in Israel shows promise in actually reducing arterial damage and improving the heart muscle.

“The new polymeric therapy may have life-changing benefits for millions of people.”

This E-selectin-targeting polymer selectively repairs damaged tissue without harming healthy tissue, so it has no side effects — unlike statins, which are currently the leading medication used for treating atherosclerosis.

“Our E-selectin-targeting polymer reduces existing plaque and prevents further plaque progression and inflammation, preventing arterial thrombosis, ischemia, myocardial infarction and stroke,” says Prof. Ayelet David of the Ben-Gurion University (BGU) department of clinical biochemistry and pharmacology.

Patented and in preclinical stage, the new polymer has been tested on mice with positive results.

Stunned by the results

In a study soon to be published, David and fellow researchers describe how they treated atherosclerotic mice with four injections of the new biomedical polymer and tested the change in their arteries after four weeks.

Prof. Ayelet David (Photo Credit: Dani Machlis/BGU)

“We were stunned by the results,” said Dr. Jonathan Leor, director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at Sheba Medical Center and professor of cardiology at Tel Aviv University, who collaborated with David on this research study.

“The myocardial function of the treated mice was greatly improved, there was less inflammation and a significant decrease in the thickness of the arteries,” said Leor.

David and Leor suggest that this polymer-based therapy may also be helpful to people with diabetes, hypertension and other age-related conditions.

“As such, the new polymeric therapy may have life-changing benefits for millions of people,” they stated.

“We are now seeking a pharmaceutical company to bring our polymer therapy through the next stages of drug development and ultimately to market,” said Ora Horovitz, senior vice president of business development at BGN Technologies (BGN), BGU’s technology and commercialization company.

“We believe that this therapy has the potential to help a great number of people,” said Horovitz.