Anti-cancer drugs could help prevent the hardening of blood vessels which cause heart attack and stroke

  • Drugs already in clinical trials for the treatment of cancers could be repurposed to prevent atherosclerosis – the build-up of fatty plaques.
  • New study shows fatty plaques that cause heart attacks build up at bends and branches of arteries
  • Twists and turns in arteries create complex flow patterns that increase risk of atherosclerosis

Inside the human heart

Anti-cancer drugs could prevent the build-up of fatty plaques in blood vessels which cause heart attacks and strokes, a new study by the University of Sheffield has shown.

The new research, funded by the British Heart Foundation, suggests drugs which are already in clinical trials for the treatment of cancers could be repurposed to prevent atherosclerosis – the build-up of fatty plaques which can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Scientists from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease found the twists, turns and branches in our arteries create complex flow patterns that increase the risk of atherosclerosis - a hardening of blood vessels due to fatty plaques.

As the blood swirls around at these junctions and bends, the disrupted flow is sensed by the walls of the arteries. This leads to inflammation and surface damage, which provides a foothold for fatty deposit to build up.

The researchers have shown this response is triggered by a protein called hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF), which controls cell metabolism and is known to have a role in some types of cancer.

Drugs that target HIF are already in clinical trials for the treatment of cancer, but this new research suggests they could be repurposed to prevent atherosclerosis.

We’ve found an exciting new target for treating atherosclerosis, and we know there are cancer drugs that we could potentially repurpose.

Professor paul evans, university of sheffield

Professor Paul Evans, lead author from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease, said: “We’ve found an exciting new target for treating atherosclerosis, and we know there are cancer drugs that we could potentially repurpose.

“That would save us having to develop something from scratch, and means we’re that bit nearer to treatments that doctors and patients will be able to benefit from.

“The bends and branches in our blood vessels are completely normal but we tend to find this is where fatty deposits are most likely to build up. We now have an explanation for this, along with the potential to develop treatments that prevent atherosclerosis.”

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Stopping the build-up of fatty plaques in arteries has the potential to significantly reduce deaths from heart attack and stroke.

“As research reveals more of what goes on in our blood vessels to allow fatty plaques to develop, we can find ways to prevent this build-up. It’s too early to say for certain, but treatments targeting HIF might one day allow us to do this.”

The study is published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology (ATVB) today (25 October 2017).

Additional information

The British Heart Foundation

The University of Sheffield
With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.
A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2017 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.
Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

Contact

For further information please contact:

Amy Huxtable
Media Relations Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 9859
a.l.huxtable@sheffield.ac.uk