AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States…and in the CSRA. Scientists at MCG have discovered a new target in the treatment of the incurable disease. And regulating that target could save hundreds of thousands of lives each year.

Coronary artery disease- the most common type of heart disease- occurs when cholesterol and fat block the passage of blood flow to your heart. 

Scientists at MCG have found that the smooth muscle cells that give those blood vessels strength respond by getting bigger and multiplying. Unfortunately, this further contributes to the disease. 

“The vessel will become very thick,” said Dr. Yuqing Huo, Director of the Vascular Inflammation Program at Medical College of Georgia’s Vascular Biology Center. “And the smooth muscle cells there- they grow a lot and they block lumen. So, then, in this, we inhibit blood flow to our heart and brain.”

Dr. Yuqing Huo and fellow scientists believe the cells of the vessel are actually trying to help by making more room. Instead, the lumen- or inside space of the vessel- continues to narrow.

Huo and his fellows have now discovered a gene responsible for this unhealthy growth. 

“When we block this gene, it looks like we can really suppress the proliferation of the vascular smooth muscle cells,” said Dr. Huo.

The gene- ATIC- is essential to the production of one chemical compound to make DNA, which cells require to grow.

Huo and his fellows have developed a molecule that, when applied to a stent inside an early-diseased vessel, will likely inhibit the ATIC gene in only smooth muscle cells.

“Our molecule right now is so good it inhibits proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells, but it will not interfere with proliferation of endothelial cells,” said Dr. Huo. “From this point, it’s much better than most other molecules used clinically right now.”

There is still much work to do. 

But Huo hopes their findings will inspire drug developers to create an effective drug for treating heart disease… and, even, other diseases.

For now, doctors suggest a healthy diet and exercise to decrease your risk of heart disease.