Scientists make a major breakthrough to treat fibrotic diseases that cause organ failure

November 13, 2017, Duke-NUS Medical School
Visual abstract/ illustration of 'Interleukin 11 is a crucial determinant of cardiovascular fibrosis' published in Nature. Credit: Prof Stuart Cook and Asst. Prof Sebastian Schaefer

Researchers from Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) and the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) have discovered that a critical protein, known as interleukin 11 (IL11) is responsible for fibrosis and causes organ damage. While it is surprising that the importance of IL11 has been overlooked and misunderstood for so long, it has now been very clearly demonstrated by this work.

A protein known as transforming growth factor beta 12 ("TGFB1") has long been known as the major cause of fibrosis and scarring of body organs, but treatments based on switching off the protein have severe side effects. The scientists discovered that IL11, is even more important than TGFB1 for fibrosis and that IL11 is a much better drug target than TGFB1.

Fibrosis is the formation of excessive connective tissue, causing scarring and failure of bodily organs and the skin. It is a very common cause of cardiovascular and renal disease, where excessive connective tissue destroys the structure and function of the organ with scar tissue. Compared to other Asians, American, and Europeans, Singaporeans have a higher prevalence of , hypertension, and diabetes, the three most common diseases that lead to heart failure. In addition, is an epidemic in Singapore and around the world. Fibrosis of the heart and kidney eventually leads to heart and kidney failure, thus this breakthrough discovery—that inhibiting IL11 can prevent heart and kidney fibrosis—has the potential to transform the treatment of millions of people around the world.

The international team, led by Professor Stuart Cook, Tanoto Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, along with Assistant Professor Sebastian Schäfer, both from NHCS and Duke-NUS' Programme in Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disorders, carried out the translational research to identify the key drivers of chronic fibrotic disease in heart, kidney, and other tissues. The team also includes researchers from Harvard University and University of California, San Diego/UCSD (USA), Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine/MDC-Berlin (Germany), London Institute of Medical Sciences/MRC-LMS and Imperial College London (the UK), and the University of Melbourne (Australia).

"Fibrotic diseases represent a major cause of illness and death around the world. The discovery that IL11 is a critical fibrotic factor represents a breakthrough for the field and for drug development. It is an incredibly exciting discovery," explained the study's senior author, Professor Cook, who is also Director, National Heart Research Institute Singapore.

"Currently, more than 225 million people worldwide suffer from heart and kidney failure and there is no treatment to prevent fibrosis. The team is at the stage of developing first-in-class therapies to inhibit IL11 and this offers hope to patients with heart and kidney disease," shared Professor Terrance Chua, Medical Director, National Heart Centre Singapore.

"This therapeutic target for fibrotic diseases of the , and other organs may be exactly what we need to fill the unmet pressing clinical gap for preventing in patients. We are proud to announce that the suite of intellectual property arising from this research has been licensed to a newly launched Singapore-funded biotechnology start-up Enleofen Bio Pte Ltd, which is co-founded by Professor Cook and Assistant Professor Schäfer," said Professor Thomas Coffman, Dean of Duke-NUS Medical School.

The study is published in Nature.

Explore further: Breakthrough discovery presents hope for treating fibrotic diseases that cause organ impairment

More information: IL11 is a crucial determinant of cardiovascular fibrosis, Nature (2017). nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/nature24676

Related Stories

Breakthrough discovery presents hope for treating fibrotic diseases that cause organ impairment

August 28, 2017
A breakthrough discovery in the field of cardiovascular fibrosis research made at Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) and National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) has been licensed to a newly launched company Enleofen Bio Pte ...

Cigarette smoke exposure increases scar tissue in the kidney and heart, study finds

December 2, 2016
Smoking may lead to fibrosis in the heart and kidneys and can worsen existing kidney disease, according to a new study. Fibrosis is tissue scarring that can impair the normal function of vital organs. The research team suggests ...

Heart failure therapy hope as drug blocks deadly muscle scarring

October 24, 2017
A potential treatment to prevent deadly muscle scarring that contributes to chronic heart failure has been uncovered by scientists.

New tools to combat kidney fibrosis

October 16, 2017
Interstitial fibrosis – excessive tissue scarring – contributes to chronic kidney disease, which is increasing in prevalence in the United States.

Study shows that Wnt secretion preventing drugs may reduce renal fibrosis

March 25, 2016
Renal fibrosis or the scarring of kidneys, following an injury, reduces their function and can cause kidney disease to progressively worsen. In a recent study, published in Kidney International, researchers from Duke-NUS ...

Root of cardiac fibrosis defined

July 13, 2017
Northwestern Medicine scientists have identified a novel molecular mechanism that regulates scar formation in the heart, a common manifestation of aging and nearly every form of heart disease. The discovery was published ...

Recommended for you

Bullying and violence at work increases the risk of cardiovascular disease

November 19, 2018
People who are bullied at work or experience violence at work are at higher risk of heart and brain blood vessel problems, including heart attacks and stroke, according to the largest prospective study to investigate the ...

Genetic analysis links obesity with diabetes, coronary artery disease

November 16, 2018
A Cleveland Clinic genetic analysis has found that obesity itself, not just the adverse health effects associated with it, significantly increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease. The paper was published ...

Non-coding genetic variant could improve key vascular functions

November 15, 2018
Atherosclerotic disease, the slow and silent hardening and narrowing of the arteries, is a leading cause of mortality worldwide. It is responsible for more than 15 million deaths each year, including an estimated 610,000 ...

Study of two tribes sheds light on role of Western-influenced diet in blood pressure

November 14, 2018
A South American tribe living in near-total isolation with no Western dietary influences showed no increase in average blood pressure from age one to age 60, according to a study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg ...

Heart failure patients shouldn't stop meds even if condition improves: study

November 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—There's bad news for heart failure patients with dilated cardiomyopathy who'd like to stop taking their meds.

Bypass beats stents for diabetics with heart trouble: study

November 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—People with both diabetes and multiple clogged heart arteries live longer if they undergo bypass surgery rather than have their blood vessels reopened with stents, according to follow-up results from a landmark ...

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.