Scientists may have found a new way of how obesity directly harms the arteries and contributes to heart disease. The latest discovery could ultimately lead to new treatments.
The British researchers discovered that in heart disease patients who are obese, body fat around the arteries nurses to secrete high amounts of a protein called WNT5A. The protein actually appears to have “toxic” effects within the blood vessels.
The findings are an early step but suggest that WNT5A is a good target for new drugs to treat or prevent heart disease, according to lead researcher Dr. Charalambos Antoniades.
Antoniades says that if they develop a treatment to ‘switch off’ the production of WNT5A from fat cells, or hamper its effects on the blood vessel wall, then they may be able to ‘neutralize’ obesity and avoid heart attacks and stroke.
Many studies have found that obese people have a higher risk of catching heart disease, compared to thinner people. The American College of Cardiology (ACC) says that’s partly due to “indirect” reasons. Obesity aggravates conditions that could result in heart problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea.
The latest findings, Antoniades said, throws light on how obesity directly damages the blood vessels.
For the study, he and his colleagues took account of blood and tissue samples from about 1,000 heart disease patients who had been through cardiac surgery. At last, they found that obese patients had much higher levels of WNT5A in their blood.
The protein was specially released in huge amounts from fat around the blood vessels, Antoniades said.
Apart from that, patients with higher WNT5A levels showed a faster progression of “plaque” buildup in their arteries in the coming three to five years. Plaques are deposits of fat, calcium and other substances that clog the arteries and can provoke a heart attack or stroke.
Those findings alone do not track down WNT5A as an offender in causing heart disease. But researchers did find more substantial evidence in the lab, according to Antoniades. It shows that when blood vessel cells are exposed to the protein, they churn out more “toxic products” and enter a state that aggravates plaque buildup.