April 1998

Media Contacts: Sarah Goodwin, 404/727-3366 -
Kathi Ovnic, 404/727-9371 -

Emory University is one of three sites in the nation testing an entirely new genre of heart disease treatment known as angiogenesis -- the creation of new blood vessels.

Results of the first human trial of angiogenesis, conducted in Germany, caused an international stir when they were published in the Feb. 24 issue of Circulation. The authors reported that new microvessels had formed in the damaged heart muscle of all 20 study patients given a new angiogenic compound.

Emory, Beth Israel Hospital in Boston and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York are beginning to enroll adults with advanced, multivessel coronary artery disease into the CHIRON study. Four Atlanta patients have received the drug thus far and the Emory team hopes to recruit dozens more for CHIRON and similar studies in the coming months.

Principal investigators of the Emory component of the study are Spencer B. King, M.D., professor of Cardiology and director of the Gruentzig Cardiovascular Research Center; Nicolas Chronos, M.D., and Gerard McGorisk, M.D., both assistant professors of Cardiology, Department of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine.

The experimental treatment involves fibroblast growth factors, proteins that trigger new vessel growth. Emory doctors are using a type of the protein known as recombinant basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF). They administer bFGF directly into an ischemic region of the heart muscle either via injection or during cardiac catheterization. A portion of the heart muscle can become damaged and develop ischemia when the coronary arteries supplying it become so narrowed with atherosclerotic plaque that the muscle literally is starved for nourishment.

Angiogenesis researchers theorize that a network of new microvessels could feed and thus heal the damaged tissue.

"We believe this type of treatment has the potential to become an option for patients with ischemic heart disease who, for any number of reasons, may not qualify for opening arteries with a balloon (angioplasty) or bypass surgery," says R. Wayne Alexander, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Medicine and chairman of the Division of Cardiology at the Emory University School of Medicine. "This use of the tools of modern biology may provide relief for patients whom we previously had little to offer."

CHIRON is a Phase I study that will measure the safety and tolerability of bFGF.

Patients should have at least one occluded coronary artery and be either unable or unwilling to undergo standard revascularization procedures. Emory study participants will undergo extensive baseline testing to further evaluate their eligibility. Tests include stress nuclear imaging, cardiac magnetic resonance imaging, routine blood and urine tests and an eye exam (to exclude certain retinal problems). They will be provided at no cost. Qualified volunteers will be asked to visit the study site about eight times over the next year. The bFGF will be administered at either Emory University Hospital at 1364 Clifton Rd., N.E., Atlanta, or the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at 1670 Clairmont Rd., N.E., Atlanta. Call 404/ 712-7821 for information.

Ironically, angiogenesis research began and has been fostered by cancer researchers interested in the microvessels that form specifically to nourish tumors. Cardiac researchers are quick to point out that angiogenic therapy requires much further study.


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