Heart disease remains one of the most urgent and widespread health challenges in the United States. According to the CDC, more than 800,000 Americans experience heart attacks each year, with about 200,000 facing a second heart attack in their lifetime. During the last 20 years, about 655,000 Americans have died from heart disease each year.
A significant obstacle for heart attack patients to overcome on their path to better health is that the injured heart tissue repairs after the episode as scar tissue, similar to wounds in the skin, leaving some patients with permanently weakened hearts. But researchers at Rush are working on a promising solution to this dire health problem — a therapy using nanoparticles that have shown in early testing to help regenerate heart tissue and reduce scarring from heart attacks.
"At a time where too many people are doubting scientists and health care professionals, we find a great deal to be hopeful about in this research," said Joel M. Friedman, president of the Alvin H. Baum Family Fund, an organization supporting healthier, more equitable and peaceful communities in the Chicago area. "This challenging aspect of heart disease has long been considered incurable. We believe in the researchers and feel confident that with support they can make this idea a reality."
The Alvin H. Baum Family Fund has been supporting cardiovascular research at Rush since 2009. Upon learning about the highly promising research of renowned scientist Uri Galili, PhD, and Gary L. Schaer, MD, director of cardiology research and strategic development at Rush Medical College, the organization was eager to sustain their work.
"Before the Baum Fund stepped in, it had been impossible to get funding," Schaer said. "There is a lot of skepticism toward heart tissue regeneration, even with the excellent results we've seen at this early stage. This is a unique and clinically important discovery, but without the Baum Fund's support we wouldn't be able to continue."
Galili discovered that nanoparticles called alpha-Gal can harness an antibody all humans produce called anti-Gal to solve a range of complicated health problems. Use of the nanoparticles to rebuild heart tissue is a massive leap forward.
"This is one of the main goals in cardiology research," Galili said. "Before I hang up my lab coat for good, I would very much like to see whether this research can be brought from the lab to the patients’ bedside successfully. With the Baum Fund's support, we have a real chance to do just that."
Noting that conditions including heart disease affect more people living in socially and economically disadvantaged areas only elevated the Baum Fund's interest in supporting this research. Furthering science and medical advancements that help address major health disparities strategically aligns with the Baum Fund's efforts to reduce inequality and inequity in the Chicago area, Friedman said.
"The Baum Fund recognizes that initial seed funding for research efforts such as this always comes with risk," Friedman said. "However, without risk, there is no innovation, and this is a chance worth taking. We are grateful to be partners with Rush in this challenge.
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