Improving Health & Medicine

February is American Heart Month: What is Weizmann Doing?

E-news, February 2020 • TAGS: Biology, Inflammation, Biochemistry

Even in 2020, with all we know about health and nutrition, heart disease is still the leading cause of death in America, accounting for one in four mortalities. Fortunately, the Weizmann Institute of Science is taking multiple approaches to understanding and treating this too-common killer. February is American Heart Month – and we’d love to share our very latest research with you.

While there are several vital heart-related projects underway at the Institute, the lab of leading researcher Prof. Eldad Tzahor recently made a significant breakthrough: discovering that a non-toxic dye actually helps repair damaged heart tissue, such as the scarring that occurs after a heart attack.

The dye, commonly used for biology research and diagnosis, is appealingly named Chicago Sky Blue for the color of that often-grey city’s sky when the clouds part. Prof. Tzahor’s group discovered the dye’s heart-saving potential a few years ago when they were looking for drugs that could renew damaged heart cells (cardiomyocytes) or promote the growth of new ones. Such attributes are particularly important – of all the major organs, the heart alone is unable to regenerate. This inability to heal is why heart disease and infarctions are so devastating. Of the thousands of potential treatments Prof. Tzahor’s team studied, Chicago Sky Blue stood alone for its ability to prompt heart cells to grow.

In the new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight, the team tested the dye in mouse models of heart attack. In adult mice, as in humans, a heart attack causes scar tissue to form. When the team injected the dye into the hearts of mice following injury, heart function was improved. The scientists then examined the mice, expecting to see evidence of heart cell renewal – but they found none.

How, then, was Chicago Sky Blue helping the hearts function better if it was not replacing damaged cells? The team suspected that the dye might be suppressing certain kinds of inflammation, and so looked at the Sky Blue-treated hearts from that angle. The result? They found less scarring than in control counterparts, and the hearts of the treated mice did not become dilated, blowing up like balloons, as often happens after injury to the organ.

In other words, the team’s hypothesis was correct: the dye prevents certain immune cells from turning on. These immune cells are active in the process of wound healing, but in the heart, this healing can be tied to scar tissue formation after a heart attack. As Prof. Tzahor explains, inflammation is the body’s response to injury, but too much of it can cause the heart to keep producing scar tissue, which can become a vicious cycle that brings further deterioration.

As Israel21C reports, the Tzahor lab’s work “suggests that the dye works in two ways: reducing inflammation and inhibiting the actions of a certain enzyme overproduced in heart disease.”

“In my lab, most of the time we focus on finding drugs that can promote cardiomyocyte renewal,” says Prof. Tzahor, but “this research showed us that we also need to pay attention to other processes that take place following a heart attack, including inflammation ... Because Chicago Sky Blue is non-toxic, we think it might be tested to prevent further damage following the initial injury of a heart attack.”

Such lifesaving, hope-giving, and original research is just one way the Weizmann Institute is helping us live longer, healthier lives … and your support can help keep it beating.

Improving Health & Medicine

February is American Heart Month: What is Weizmann Doing?

E-news, February 2020 • TAGS: Biology , Inflammation , Biochemistry

Even in 2020, with all we know about health and nutrition, heart disease is still the leading cause of death in America, accounting for one in four mortalities. Fortunately, the Weizmann Institute of Science is taking multiple approaches to understanding and treating this too-common killer. February is American Heart Month – and we’d love to share our very latest research with you.

While there are several vital heart-related projects underway at the Institute, the lab of leading researcher Prof. Eldad Tzahor recently made a significant breakthrough: discovering that a non-toxic dye actually helps repair damaged heart tissue, such as the scarring that occurs after a heart attack.

The dye, commonly used for biology research and diagnosis, is appealingly named Chicago Sky Blue for the color of that often-grey city’s sky when the clouds part. Prof. Tzahor’s group discovered the dye’s heart-saving potential a few years ago when they were looking for drugs that could renew damaged heart cells (cardiomyocytes) or promote the growth of new ones. Such attributes are particularly important – of all the major organs, the heart alone is unable to regenerate. This inability to heal is why heart disease and infarctions are so devastating. Of the thousands of potential treatments Prof. Tzahor’s team studied, Chicago Sky Blue stood alone for its ability to prompt heart cells to grow.

In the new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight, the team tested the dye in mouse models of heart attack. In adult mice, as in humans, a heart attack causes scar tissue to form. When the team injected the dye into the hearts of mice following injury, heart function was improved. The scientists then examined the mice, expecting to see evidence of heart cell renewal – but they found none.

How, then, was Chicago Sky Blue helping the hearts function better if it was not replacing damaged cells? The team suspected that the dye might be suppressing certain kinds of inflammation, and so looked at the Sky Blue-treated hearts from that angle. The result? They found less scarring than in control counterparts, and the hearts of the treated mice did not become dilated, blowing up like balloons, as often happens after injury to the organ.

In other words, the team’s hypothesis was correct: the dye prevents certain immune cells from turning on. These immune cells are active in the process of wound healing, but in the heart, this healing can be tied to scar tissue formation after a heart attack. As Prof. Tzahor explains, inflammation is the body’s response to injury, but too much of it can cause the heart to keep producing scar tissue, which can become a vicious cycle that brings further deterioration.

As Israel21C reports, the Tzahor lab’s work “suggests that the dye works in two ways: reducing inflammation and inhibiting the actions of a certain enzyme overproduced in heart disease.”

“In my lab, most of the time we focus on finding drugs that can promote cardiomyocyte renewal,” says Prof. Tzahor, but “this research showed us that we also need to pay attention to other processes that take place following a heart attack, including inflammation ... Because Chicago Sky Blue is non-toxic, we think it might be tested to prevent further damage following the initial injury of a heart attack.”

Such lifesaving, hope-giving, and original research is just one way the Weizmann Institute is helping us live longer, healthier lives … and your support can help keep it beating.