MIAMI—A cardiology researcher at the University of Miami has been awarded a $400,000 high-priority grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health to study cardiac signaling in heart failure.
“Heart failure is the common end-stage for cardiac disease,” said Dr. Lina Shehadeh of the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. “Despite longstanding research into the basic mechanisms involved in the weakening and remodeling of the heart’s muscular tissues, current therapies remain inadequate, with a five-year mortality rate at 50 percent.”
With the one-year NHLBI grant, Shehadeh—who is an assistant professor of medicine in the Miller School’s Division of Cardiology and an investigator in its Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute (ISCI)—will study the signaling between the two major cell types in the heart: the cardiac myocytes, which are the contracting muscle cells, and the cardiac fibroblasts, which are sandwiched between the myocytes giving them support.
“This is a new line of inquiry in the field of cardiac research,” Shehadeh said. “Many studies have been conducted on the myocytes, and we need to look at the fibroblasts as well.”
Understanding how cardiac fibroblasts and myocytes together contribute to remodeling resulting in heart failure should, according to Shehadeh, lead to new therapeutic strategies that will improve the prognosis for those with chronic cardiovascular conditions.
In other recent news out of the ISCI, with late September came word that a first-of-its-kind trial using stem cells in Alzheimer’s disease patients—led by UHealth, the University of Miami Health System, and sponsored by Miami-based life-sciences company Longeveron LLC—has received a $1-million award from the Alzheimer’s Association. The grant is part of a $7-million investment in clinical trials that target brain inflammation as an innovative approach to Alzheimer’s therapy, led by philanthropist Michaela “Mikey” Hoag, according to the ISCI.
Dr. Bernard S. Baumel, an Alzheimer’s specialist at UHealth and assistant professor of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, is the clinical investigator of the Phase 1 clinical trial examining the safety and efficacy of using stem cells in patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease. Using the novel therapy that is manufactured by Longeveron, clinical researchers will inject mesenchymal stem cells from healthy adult donors into patients’ bloodstream.
The trial held at UHealth is one of just four in the nation awarded $1 million each as part of the “Part the Cloud Challenge” created by Hoag, whose parents both suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. There is also a competitive aspect in the form of an additional $3 million that will go to the clinical trial that demonstrates the most promise for treating Alzheimer’s disease.
Research has indicated that neuro-inflammation quite likely plays an important role in the brain changes that occur in Alzheimer’s disease. Inflammation is a natural immune response in which cells are directed to fight infection or repair damaged tissue, the ISCI notes, but persistent or misdirected inflammation can damage otherwise healthy tissue.
“Stem cells are very potent anti-inflammatories,” said Baumel, who is collaborating with Dr. Joshua Hare, director of the ISCI. “Because the amyloid plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients are associated with inflammation, infusions of stem cells may help to improve or stabilize that condition. We are very grateful for this financial support from the Alzheimer’s Association. With more than five million Americans with Alzheimer’s and millions more worldwide, it’s important for us to accelerate development of any promising therapies.”