Award aids heart disease research using stem cells

First published 12 November 2020

Dr Jatin Patel has received a Paul Korner Innovation Award from the Heart Foundation to progress his research in using stem cell therapies to regenerate blood vessels.

The award is one of two Future Leader Fellowships to be announced as part of funding for 53 projects worth $13.1 million to investigate the causes, treatment and prevention of heart disease, stroke and related disorders.

Dr Patel will use the funding to advance a patented technology that aims to isolate two specific stem cells to treat vascular disease, with the potential to improve a patient’s quality of life and reduce hospital stays.

A focus is ischemia, involving a restriction in blood supply causing tissue damage and impairing the flow of oxygen and nutrients, as well as the removal of waste.

‘The stem cell technology we have developed, with the combination of two stem cells, allows for the blood vessels to be repaired and regenerated, reducing inflammation and resulting in blood flow returning to the damaged tissue,’ Dr Patel said.

‘The preclinical studies also demonstrated our stem cells can be transplanted without the need for immunosuppression – that is, reducing the efficacy of a patient’s immune system.’

Dr Patel said the stem cells used were sourced from the patient, meaning they would not be rejected once transplanted.

Another focus for Dr Patel is to understand the development of atherosclerosis, the build-up of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on the artery walls.

His research at the IHBI’s Cancer and Ageing Research Program, based at the Translational Research Institute, is looking at how excess blood cholesterol dampens the function of vascular stem cells, resulting in the vascular scarring.

The process exacerbates the development of cardiovascular disease.

‘This is an entirely new research area for cardiovascular disease,’ Dr Patel said. ’It will enable us to identify novel mechanisms of disease formation and potential therapeutic targets to block early vascular stem cell loss.

‘Projects like this are crucial so that Australia remains at the forefront of the development of novel cell and medical therapies for cardiovascular disease – the next generation of clinical care.’

Cardiovascular diseases are a leading cause globally of death and illness, particularly in western societies due to high levels of obesity, diabetes and physical inactivity. In 2017 alone, it was directly attributed to 43,477 deaths in Australia.

‘In Australia, we are rapidly moving towards an ageing population and with this comes an increasing patient base with cardiovascular disease,’ Dr Patel said.

‘My aim is to revolutionise therapeutic options for patients, targeting tissue repair and regeneration, as opposed to the current clinical regimens that mostly treat the symptoms.

‘Now is the time to seize upon years of research to develop a cell therapy that will aid in patient recovery and reduce healthcare costs.’