Rice breakthrough could prevent multiple fibrotic diseases

HOUSTON, Jan. 18, 2007 -- A scientific breakthrough at Rice University could lead to the first treatment that prevents the build-up of deadly scar tissue in a broad class of diseases that account for an estimated 45 percent of U.S. deaths each year.

"Fibrotic diseases kill so many people because they can crop up in almost any part of the body, and cardiac fibrosis is a particular problem for anyone who's had a heart attack," said Richard Gomer, professor of biochemistry and cell biology at Rice. "We've discovered a naturally occurring blood protein that prevents dangerous scar tissue from forming."

The protein, which is called serum amyloid P, or SAP, has proven effective at preventing fibrotic disease from developing in the hearts of lab animals, and Gomer and colleagues hope it will eventually save thousands of lives once it is developed for human use.

Fibrosis occurs when the body's natural healing process goes awry, creating extra scar tissue that does more harm than good. There are dozens of fibrotic diseases, including atherosclerosis, asthma, cirrhosis, scleroderma and pulmonary fibrosis. Since there are no FDA-approved treatments to prevent fibrotic tissue from forming, doctors typically consider fibrosis to be an irreversible process, and they try to slow it as much as possible with anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive drugs.

The biopharmaceutical company Promedior Inc., of Malvern, Pa., has licensed Rice's SAP technology for use against fibrotic diseases. The company is engaged in animal testing, but has not yet set a date for the first human clinical trials of SAP.

Gomer said initial animal tests of SAP at Rice have proven very promising. Their first study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science in November with collaborators at Baylor College of Medicine, found that SAP injections prevented the formation of fibrotic scar tissue in the he

Contact: Jade Boyd
Rice University

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