Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Over 500 million people worldwide carry a genetic mutation that disables a common metabolic protein called ALDH2
The mutation, which predominantly occurs in people of East Asian descent, leads to an increased risk of heart disease and poorer outcomes after a heart attack. It also causes facial flushing when carriers drink alcohol. Now researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have learned for the first time specifically how the mutation affects heart health. They did so by comparing heart muscle cells made from induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, from people with the mutation versus those without the mutation. IPS cells are created in the laboratory from specialized adult cells like skin. They are "pluripotent," meaning they can be coaxed to become any cell in the body. "This study is one of the first to show that we can use iPS cells to study ethnic-specific differences among populations," said Joseph Wu, MD, PhD, director of the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute and professor of cardiovascular medicine and of radiology. "These findings may help us discover new therapeutic paths for heart disease for carriers of this mutation," said Wu. "In the future, I believe we will have banks of iPS cells generated from many different ethnic groups. Drug companies or clinicians can then compare how members of different ethnic groups respond to drugs or diseases, or study how one group might differ from another, or tailor specific drugs to fit particular groups." Wu is working to start a biobank at the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute of iPS cells from about 1,000 people of many different ethnic backgrounds and health histories. "This is one of my main priorities," he said. "For example, in California, we boast one of the most diverse populations on Earth. We'd like to include male and female patients of major representative ethnicities, age ranges and cardiovascular histories. This will allow us to conduct 'clinical trials in a dish' on these cells, a very powerful new approach, to learn which therapies work best for each group. This would help physicians to understand for the first time disease process at a population level through observing these cells as surrogates."