December 20, 2011

Gene therapy shows promise for diabetic heart disease

Heart muscleDiabetes can reduce blood supply to the heart, causing heart failure. Research partly funded by us has shown that boosting a protective protein in the heart, using gene therapy, may have potential as a future treatment.

Diabetic heart failure is a debilitating condition when the heart can’t pump strongly enough to meet the demands of our bodies.

Research led by a BHF-funded scientist in Bristol has shown that, in mice, using gene therapy to boost levels of a natural protective agent called NGF can prevent the life-threatening heart problems caused by diabetes.

Gene therapy

This study suggests that there is real promise for NGF gene therapy in future to alleviate heart failure in diabetic patients

The team discovered that diabetes caused a reduction in NGF in the hearts of mice. They counteracted this by using a specially engineered virus to deliver extra copies of the NGF gene into the heart, and they saw that this prevented deterioration of the heart.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, our Associate Medical Director, said: "Targeted gene therapy is now becoming a realistic prospect for several human diseases. This study suggests that there is real promise for NGF gene therapy in future to alleviate heart failure in diabetic patients – a major and often fatal complication of the disease."    

The potential of NGF

The researchers, led by BHF Senior Research Fellow Professor Costanza Emanueli at the Bristol Heart Institute, have previously shown that NGF can also stimulate the growth of new blood vessels in the heart and improve survival in mice after heart attack.

Professor Emanueli said: “Our study represents a major advance in tackling heart disease in diabetics, a leading cause of death in the western world.  It also represents one important step forward in our goal for translating NGF-based therapies in cardiovascular patients.”

The research is published in Diabetes, the journal of the American Diabetes Association.