Scientists demonstrated that gene therapy administered through a nebulizer-like inhalation device can completely reverse PAH in rat models of the disease. In the lab, researchers also showed in pulmonary artery PAH patient tissue samples reduced expression of the SERCA2a, an enzyme critical for proper pumping of calcium in calcium compartments within the cells. SERCA2a gene therapy could be sought as a promising therapeutic intervention in PAH.
“The gene therapy could be delivered very easily to patients through simple inhalation — just like the way nebulizers work to treat asthma,” says study co-senior investigator Roger J. Hajjar, MD, Director of the Cardiovascular Research Center and the Arthur & Janet C. Ross Professor of Medicine and Professor of Gene & Cell at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “We are excited about testing this therapy in PAH patients who are in critical need of intervention.”
This same SERCA2a dysfunction also occurs in heart failure. This new study utilizes the same gene therapy currently being tested in patients to reverse congestive heart failure in a large phase III clinical trial in the United States and Europe.
“What we have shown is that gene therapy restores function of this crucial enzyme in diseased lungs,” says Dr. Hajjar. “We are delighted with these new findings because it suggests that a gene therapy that is already showing great benefit in congestive heart failure patients may be able to help PAH patients who currently have no good treatment options — and are in critical need of a life sustaining therapy.”
When SERCA2a is down-regulated, calcium stays longer in the cells than it should, and it induces pathways that lead to overgrowth of new and enlarged cells. According to researchers, the delivery of the SERCA2a gene produces SERCA2a enzymes, which helps both heart and lung cells restore their proper use of calcium.
“We are now on a path toward PAH patient clinical trials in the near future,” says Dr. Hajjar, who developed the gene therapy approach. Studies in large animal models are now underway. SERCA2a gene therapy has already been approved by the National Institutes of Health for human study.
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