Preventing heart attacks by earlier detection of cardiovascular disease
In the Netherlands, 1.55 million people suffer from cardiovascular diseases. Yet, acute cardiovascular events, such as a heart attack or stroke, often occur unexpectedly. That is because many people do not know they are at risk for such an event. Immunological researcher Amanda Foks and her colleagues Bram Slütter and Ilze Bot are investigating how to discover these diseases at an early stage for better treatment.
Atherosclerosis is the underlying cause of most cardiovascular diseases. Accumulation of cholesterol and inflammatory cells in the arterial wall leads to the development of so-called atherosclerotic plaques, which causes arteries to narrow. . This is a process that occurs slowly and can cause problems with blood flow to organs and tissues.
‘Every year, many people die from acute forms of cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack’, Foks explains. ‘This often happens very suddenly, which means treatment comes too late. And even if a patient is in the hospital for treatment soon after an acute cardiovascular event, there is still permanent damage in most cases.’ It is therefore extremely important to recognise cardiovascular diseases in time. ‘We need to be able to screen people to determine whether they are at risk.’
'Heart attacks often happens very suddenly, which means treatment comes too late'
B cells as indicator for atherosclerosis
Currently, there are no good inflammatory markers to accurately predict the risk of atherosclerosis. Foks and colleagues Slütter and Bot hope to change this with the project B-specific. ‘We will investigate a specific cell of our immune system, known as the B-cell. This cell is involved in the defence against pathogens by making antibodies. When a B cell is abnormal, it can produce antibodies that work against the body's own proteinss, which can make people sick.’
The research from the Leiden team shows that these abnormal B cell variants can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. ‘First, we will investigate how this abnormal B cell and the antibodies that this cell produces contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. We then investigate whether those B cells can serve as an indicator for a heart attack or stroke. Finally we will explore whether we can destroy this abnormal B cell to treat atherosclerosis.’
Getting started together with a research grant
For the research, the team received a 4 million grant from the EIC Pathfinder Challenge programme. 'This will allow us to work on this project in several countries over the next four years. Together with colleagues from Rotterdam, Sweden, Belgium, Germany and Italy, we hope to find both a new marker for detecting atherosclerosis as well as an effective novel therapy.' Leiden University (Foks) is coordinating the project.
The Leiden team is very happy with the grant. 'Getting such a big grant is very special as a team. We celebrated together with cake, flowers and a drink!'