Stopping atherosclerosis in its tracks

Research Updates
A new treatment for atherosclerosis could soon be in sight, with an HRI study finding that progression of the common condition could be slowed using the chemokine binding protein ‘M3’.

Atherosclerosis – the common disease where arteries become blocked and restrict blood flow – could result in a devastating heart attack if an artery that supplies blood to the heart is affected.

Studies have shown that chemokines (small chemoattractant proteins) play a key role in the development of atherosclerosis, as they recruit immune cells to the site of inflammation. By inhibiting the functions of chemokines, we could potentially reduce the progression of atherosclerosis – essentially, stop it in its tracks.

Lead researcher Dhanya Ravindran originally started investigating how atherosclerosis might be prevented by inhibiting chemokines while in the HRI Immunobiology Group, led by Dr Christina Bursill.

Enter the chemokine binding protein ‘M3’. M3 is a broad-spectrum chemokine inhibitor that binds and inactivates chemokines, helping to prevent the host immune response during inflammation/injury. It also has the vital ability to inactivate a range of the key chemokines involved in atherosclerosis.

In this research, Dhanya found an astonishing 45% decrease in the size of atherosclerotic lesions in lab models, when M3 was overexpressed.

Results of the model also suggest that M3 may be more effective at suppressing atherosclerosis that is progressing at a slower rate, rather than a more rapid rate.

These study findings support a promising role for chemokine inhibition with M3 in the treatment of atherosclerosis, particularly in patients with chronic cases.

The next step for Dhanya will be to examine whether the same positive results can be produced in other settings for cardiovascular diseases, such as angiogenesis, as well as to shine light on the exact mechanisms by which M3 works.

The full paper can be read here: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0173224

Meet the team: Dhanya Ravindran

While studying a double major in physiology and pathology at university, Dhanya discovered an interest in cardiovascular disease. And with particular enjoyment in lab sessions, Dhanya was drawn to a research career path.

“I was fascinated by the fact that the smallest of ideas could develop into something novel and potentially ground breaking.”

Now a third year PhD student in the Vascular Complications Group, Dhanya won the Heart Research Institute Award of Excellence for Best Student Presentation in 2016 (pictured below next to ‘Aortic waves’, a cross-section of an aortic sinus that she photographed).

Dhanya was also a Finalist for the Young Investigator Award sessions at the 2015 Australian Atherosclerosis Society conference as well as at the 2016 Joint Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australian Atherosclerosis Society, the Australian Vascular Biology Society and the High Blood Pressure Research Council of Australia. She was also awarded a student poster prize at the 2015 Australian Vascular Biology Society conference. 

Header image: Aortic waves – cross-section of aortic sinus from a lab model; aortic valve collagen (blue/green) and nuclei and muscle tissue of aortic sinus (purple). Photographed using a Zeiss Axio Imager Z2 upright microscope by Dhanya Ravindran.

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