Bilirubin can prevent damage from cardiovascular disease

December 6, 2012, University of Missouri-Columbia
Durante, a professor of medical pharmacology and physiology, has found that bilirubin can be used to inhibit the clogging of arteries often experienced by individuals with cardiovascular disease. Credit: MU News Bureau

Each year, about 610,000 Americans suffer their first heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart attacks and other symptoms of cardiovascular disease can be caused when blockage occurs in the arteries. In a new study from the University of Missouri, a scientist has discovered a natural defense against arterial blockage: bilirubin.

Bilirubin is typically something parents of newborns hear about when their children are diagnosed with jaundice. Generated during the body's process to recycle worn-out , bilirubin is metabolized by the liver and, usually, leaves the body harmlessly. (Many babies' livers are not developed enough to metabolize the bilirubin, which results in the infants being diagnosed with jaundice, or high levels of bilirubin in their systems.) Now MU scientists have found that bilirubin can be used to inhibit the clogging of arteries, and thus prevent the deadly consequences, often experienced by individuals with cardiovascular disease.

"Bilirubin is generated daily in the human body, but it's not a waste product; it has important functions, including being an antioxidant," said William Durante, professor of and physiology and lead author on the study. "What we found in our study is that bilirubin can prevent or limit the damage that occurs to in individuals who have, or are at risk for, cardiovascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis."

In a new study from the University of Missouri, a scientist has discovered a natural defense against arterial blockage: bilirubin. Credit: Nathan Hurst/University of Missouri

When arteries are damaged, in blood vessels become activated and grow at the injury sites creating lesions inside the arteries. These, lesions can block the flow of blood in arteries of the heart leading to chest pains or deadly heart attacks, Durante said. Arterial lesions can occur due to genetics or because of bad such as a lack of exercise, unhealthy diet or smoking.

"We found that bilirubin could limit the size of arterial lesions by blocking the growth of cells" Durante said. "Importantly, bilirubin inhibits cell growth without causing cell death, an undesirable side effect of drugs. Cell death creates cellular debris in the arterial network and leads to inflammation and possible rupture of the lesions resulting in even bigger clinical problems."

However, Durante said that bilirubin is a challenge to use because it is not easily dissolved in water and is rapidly metabolized by the when taken orally.

"One possibility is to coat stents—which doctors insert into arteries to keep blood vessels open once the blockage has been cleared—with the bilirubin," Durante said. "When the stents are inserted into the arteries, bilirubin will keep smooth muscle cells from growing and blocking the stent. Surgeons also could coat bilirubin onto blood vessels that are used in bypass surgery."

Durante said that further studies are needed before this technique can be tested in humans. Durante's study was published in Frontiers in Pharmacology. The early-stage results of this research are promising. If additional studies, including animal studies, are successful within the next few years, MU officials would request authority from the federal government to begin human drug development (this is commonly referred to as the "investigative new drug" status). After this status has been granted, researchers may conduct human clinical trials with the hope of developing new treatments.

Explore further: Bilirubin protects against heart disease

Related Stories

Bilirubin protects against heart disease

June 26, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- There's new hope for the fight against cancer and cardiovascular disease, following breakthrough research identifying a pigment in our bile.

Genetic and mechanistic basis for rotor syndrome uncovered

January 9, 2012
The main symptom of Rotor syndrome is jaundice caused by a buildup of a substance known as conjugated bilirubin. Bilirubin is a yellow substance generated in large quantities when the body recycles red blood cells. It is ...

Recommended for you

A nanoparticle inhalant for treating heart disease

January 18, 2018
A team of researchers from Italy and Germany has developed a nanoparticle inhalant for treating people suffering from heart disease. In their paper published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the group describes ...

Starting periods before age of 12 linked to heightened risk of heart disease and stroke

January 15, 2018
Starting periods early—before the age of 12—is linked to a heightened risk of heart disease and stroke in later life, suggests an analysis of data from the UK Biobank study, published online in the journal Heart.

'Decorated' stem cells could offer targeted heart repair

January 10, 2018
Although cardiac stem cell therapy is a promising treatment for heart attack patients, directing the cells to the site of an injury - and getting them to stay there - remains challenging. In a new pilot study using an animal ...

Two simple tests could help to pinpoint cause of stroke

January 10, 2018
Detecting the cause of the deadliest form of stroke could be improved by a simple blood test added alongside a routine brain scan, research suggests.

Exercise is good for the heart, high blood pressure is bad—researchers find out why

January 10, 2018
When the heart is put under stress during exercise, it is considered healthy. Yet stress due to high blood pressure is bad for the heart. Why? And is this always the case? Researchers of the German Centre for Cardiovascular ...

Heart-muscle patches made with human cells improve heart attack recovery

January 10, 2018
Large, human cardiac-muscle patches created in the lab have been tested, for the first time, on large animals in a heart attack model. This clinically relevant approach showed that the patches significantly improved recovery ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.