The findings could also lead to new treatments for other common diseases.
A gene discovery could pave the way for the development of new treatments for heart disease, after researchers found that it is responsible for blood vessel formation, or angiogenesis. The findings have resulted from an international research collaboration part-funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). The paper was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Researchers found that when they turned off the gene, called Wars2, in rats and zebrafish, there was reduced blood vessel growth both in the heart and throughout the rest of the body. This has confirmed the vital role of the Wars2 gene in blood vessel formation.
The Wars2 gene has previously been linked to obesity and cancer in large genetic studies, known as Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS), which look for versions of genes which are common among people with a disease. Researchers are able to see if a gene is associated with a particular condition.
The heart muscle relies on a constant supply of blood, to keep blood pumping around the body. Coronary heart disease is just one of the diseases where this supply of blood is implicated, and the heart muscle has a reduced blood supply. The discovery of the Wars2 gene will allow scientists to test new molecules to find ways of enhancing the effect of the gene to increase the blood supply to the heart.
In contrast, diseases such as breast cancer, could be targeted with treatments aimed at blocking the function of the gene. Cancerous tumours rely on a blood supply which provides them with nutrients and oxygen in order to grow and proliferate. Blocking Wars2 and reducing blood vessel formation could starve tumour cells from the outside in.
Professor Stuart Cook, who led the study, is head of the Cardiovascular Genetics and Genomics group within Genetics & Imaging at the National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI). He said:
"Angiogenesis is vital for supporting life and providing nutrients to all parts of the body.
"Finding a way to control angiogenesis not only provides a target for the development of anti-cancer therapies, but may also prove useful in similarly starving abnormal blood vessel growth elsewhere in the body, like in diabetic eye disease."
Dr Rizwan Ahmed, at Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, who worked on the study, said: "We are now one step closer to improving heart function in people with an obstructed or reduced blood flow to the heart muscle. Our findings could lead to new treatments to stimulate blood vessel production in the heart. "The next step is to find medications to activate blood vessel production specifically in the heart muscle, using this gene. This research was an important step forward to help us target a gene known to be important in a range of conditions."
Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, which helped fund the research, said:
"This careful genetic study has found a new gene that controls cardiac blood vessel growth, opening up the potential for new therapies to enhance blood supply to the failing heart.
"This new insight into the role of Wars2 in blood vessel growth will allow researchers around the world to explore a fresh new target to treat diseases which are characterised by impaired blood vessel formation."
The research was also supported by the Medical Research Council (MRC), Leducq Foundation, Tanoto Foundation Singapore, NMRC Singapore, Goh Foundation Singapore, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic, The Czech Science Foundation, NIHR Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit at Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK. European Union EURATRANS award, Helmholtz Alliance ICEMED, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft from Grant Agency of the Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic.
Article: Wars2 is a determinant of angiogenesis, Wang, Mao, et al., Nature Communications, published 8 July 2016.