Cardiovascular disease is a collective name for various diseases related to the heart and blood vessels. Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide and responsible for 17.9 million deaths every year. Within the Netherlands there is daily mortality of 103 people, making cardiovascular diseases the second most prevalent cause of death in 2018i. In Flanders, the situation is similar, and cardiovascular disease is also the second cause of death, with 28% in 2016ii.
How the lives of people with chronic cardiovascular diseases are affected depends on the specific disease and its severity. For example, patients with heart failure can experience a decrease in endurance. Physical activities such as cycling to work, walking up the stairs or even getting dressed can lead to tiredness, shortness of breath and swollen legs and/or ankles. This can restrict the quality of life and activities of the person immensely and requires major life adjustments.
The Cardiovascular Moonshot of RegMed XB is a comprehensive program based on the concept that we should be able to create a cardiac regenerative therapy that suits best the individual patient. One approach is to restore the heart function outside of the body (ex vivo). The advantage of this method is that we can solely treat the heart and assess cardiac function during treatment while leaving all other tissues in the body as they are. Initially, this could be an option to restore donor hearts for transplant recipients. After restoring the heart, it will be re-implanted.
With this approach, we will be able to explore gene therapy as a cure for hereditary diseases as well. The researchers aim to stimulate the body’s own regenerative capacity including, for example, improving the contractility and perfusion of the heart muscle, repair, or replacement of coronary arteries and heart valves. Important is that the researchers will learn how to treat the heart better along the way and eventually also deduce how to treat the heart inside a patient and even prevent (certain) cardiovascular diseases.
This is the youngest of the Moonshots. So far, it has finished a hypothermic pilot which has increased the experience of the researchers with perfusion models. Currently this model if being further developed for optimal heart preservation. Furthermore, histopathological analysis of heart valves is ongoing. This will help in understanding how the heart valves will remodel under the influence of the altered flow of liquids in the ex vivo heart platform.