Universiteit Leiden

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Cellular therapy promising treatment for arteriosclerosis

Vanessa Frodermann, a PhD student at the Biopharmaceutical department of the Leiden Academic Centre for Drug Research, has discovered that arteriosclerosis could be inhibited by cellular therapy. Arteriosclerosis is one of the leading causes of the development of cardiovascular disease. Her PhD defence is scheduled for 27 May 2015.

Arteriosclerosis is an inflammatory disease

So-called ‘foam cells’ filled with ‘bad cholesterol’. These cells are one of the main causes of arteriosclerosis (image: Vanessa Frodermann).

Our arteries are flexible organs able to expand and retract, but calcification causes them to lose this ability. Arteriosclerosis also decreases the supply of blood to the heart and brain, which eventually results in cardiovascular disease – one of the most common causes of death in Western society.

Previous studies have already revealed that our immune system plays a very important role in the development of arteriosclerosis, which is actually an inflammatory disease. During the process of calcification specific reactions by our immune systems suppress the development of cells capable of dealing with these inflammations in our arteries.

Experts in inflammation

Vanessa Frodermann wanted to find out whether the immune system could be supported by enhancing the characteristics of immune cells and stimulating their production. These cells are ‘experts’ in combating inflammation. Through a series of laboratory-based experiments, Frodermann studied how various immune cells, including dendritic cells and mesenchymal stem cells, responded to stimulation.

Dramatic increase in production

Once a positive response to the stimulation was discovered, Frodermann subsequently used mouse models for arteriosclerosis to test the effects of this treatment. In all cases the production of immune cells capable of combating inflammation increased dramatically, to the point where the inflammation was dealt with successfully.

Lowering cholesterol levels

Frodermann also researched the effects of certain medications on the production of those immune cells that combat inflammation. In two studies the medication was shown to be capable of increasing the production of these cells, while also decreasing cholesterol levels. These levels play an important role in the development of arteriosclerosis.

Clinical phase

Vanessa Frodermann

Frodermann’s research represents a strong incentive for the further development of cellular therapy as a treatment method for arteriosclerosis. The next step consists of clinical trials for this therapy and once these have been successfully concluded, the medical world will have another important weapon against arteriosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. Frodermann will continue her work as a postdoc at the Center for Systems Biology at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, where she will study the role of white blood cells during stress and after a heart attack.

Vanessa Frodermann’s PhD research was carried out with support from the Netherlands Heart Foundation.


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