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Medical science: Repurposing cancer immunotherapy for heart disease

Nature

September 12, 2019

A form of cancer immunotherapy may have potential as a therapy for some heart injuries, suggests a proof-of-concept study in mice, published in Nature. Targeted immune cells called CAR T cells are shown to restore heart function in a mouse model of heart injury. More research is needed to determine whether this approach could be translated to the clinic.

Cardiac fibrosis is a condition caused by an excess of cardiac fibroblasts - cells activated upon injury that cause the heart to stiffen, and which reduce its function. This condition is seen in most forms of heart disease, but few treatments exist that improve symptoms and no therapies are known to directly target excessive cardiac fibrosis.

Targeted therapies have had some success in cancer treatment, such as using engineered T cells that recognize and destroy cancer cells. Jonathan Epstein and colleagues investigate whether a similar approach could work for cardiac fibrosis. The authors identify a candidate target protein on activated cardiac fibroblasts from diseased human hearts. They demonstrate that modified CAR T cells designed to recognize this protein can reduce cardiac fibrosis and improve heart function in mouse models of heart injury and fibrosis.

CAR T immunotherapy has been approved by the FDA for some forms of cancer. However, before considering its use in human heart disease, more work is needed to minimize safety risks and determine whether the protein identified here is the best target for this line of treatment, the authors conclude.

doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1546-z

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