University of Vermont

Research and Animal Welfare

Perfecting Non-Invasive Techniques for Treating Heart Disease

The number-one cause of death in the United States is heart disease. UVM researchers are developing treatments for atherosclerosis and looking for ways to heal the heart muscle.

How are they doing this?

Some genetically modified strains of mice carry genes that are defective in the biochemical pathways that process cholesterol. These mice develop atherosclerosis in their coronary arteries, similar to humans. UVM researchers have used these animals to screen novel drugs for the reduction of atherosclerotic lesions prior to utilizing the drugs in human trials. Cardiology investigators also have developed a method for surgically inducing a myocardial infarction ("heart attack") in mice. These mice then can be used to test therapies which will improve the healing capacity of the heart muscle, from new drugs to stem cell-mediated treatments. For more information about this type of research, see Larry's Story, a video at the Foundation for Biomedical Research about investigating the causes of heart disease using animal research.

Why are animals important?

Heart disease is a complex problem involving multiple systems in the body. Computer models are available which simulate many of the mechanical aspects of the amazing heart. However, much remains to be learned about the immunologic and biochemical aspects of the disease. The only animal species that has been extensively manipulated genetically is the laboratory mouse. Because of transgenic technology, mice can carry genes for pathologic conditions (such as atherosclerosis) which closely mimic the human condition. Such mice can be used to further understand the development of heart disease, as well as examine both pharmaceutical and "life style" interventions, such as alterations in diet or exercise regimens.

What are the significant outcomes of this research?

More than one in every four deaths in the U.S. is due to cardiovascular disease. Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women, and costs associated with heart disease in the U.S. exceeded $300 billion in 2010.

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