Coronary artery disease is a leading cause of mortality in Western countries. It cannot be cured. Recent research, led by Pilar Ruiz-Lozano, Ph.D., at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, may lead to new therapies for coronary artery disease. The research demonstrated that stimulation of the Wnt signaling pathway is essential for the formation of the coronary vasculature. The Wnt pathways of secreted factors has been known previously to play a role in embryogenesis and development, and it also functions as a regulator of some stem cell populations.
Previous research by the team demonstrated that vitamin A signaling is necessary to the coronary progenitors and suggested that the action of vitamin A may be mediated, at least in part, by means of the activation of Wnt in the coronary progenitor cells. The recent study provides hope for the millions of people affected by coronary disease. The group demonstrated that the mutation of the gene ß-catenin (effector of the Wnt –signaling pathway), in a subset of cells destined to form the coronary vasculature, disrupts the formation of the vasculature of the heart in mammalian embryos. The mutation impairs differentiation of the vascular media, composed of smooth muscle cells. In turn, activation of these cells with Wnt ligands results in increased vasculature and formation of smooth muscle cells. The work was published in PNAS and provides the groundwork for alternative approaches to the cure of coronary artery disease.
About Burnham Institute for Medical Research:
Burnham Institute for Medical Research conducts world-class collaborative research dedicated to finding cures for human disease, improving quality of life, and thus creating a legacy for its employees, partners, donors, and community. The La Jolla, California campus was established as a nonprofit, public benefit corporation in 1976 and is now home to three major centers: a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center, the Del E. Webb Center for Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research, and the Infectious and Inflammatory Disease Center. Burnham today employs nearly 800 people, ranks consistently among the world’s top 20 organizations for the impact of its research publications, and rates fourth among all research institutes in the United States for obtaining grant funds from the National Institutes of Health. In 2006, Burnham established a center for vascular mapping and bionanotechnology in Santa Barbara, California. Burnham is also establishing a campus at Lake Nona in Orlando, Florida that will focus on diabetes and obesity research and will expand the Institute’s drug discovery capabilities, employing over 300 people. For additional information about Burnham and to learn about ways to support its research, visit www.burnham.org.
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