Guidant Corporation, Columbia University and Stony Brook University will collaborate to study a new gene and cell therapy that may ultimately provide better understanding of how genetically-engineered cells can help pace the heart.
This five-year, phased investment will build on recent basic research conducted at the universities. The goal of the program is to develop better treatment options for people with heart disease. Terms of the investment are not being disclosed.
Research at the universities suggests the possibility of developing a biological pacemaker, one that can vary the heart's beats to fit the body's needs, as is required during variations in exercise or emotion.
"The opportunity to translate this important technology from basic research into human therapy fits in with our mission at Columbia University Medical Center," said Gerald D. Fischbach, M.D., executive vice president and dean of the faculty of medicine at CUMC. "We look forward to collaborating with Guidant and Stony Brook and harnessing the potential of this new treatment."
"This extraordinary venture with Columbia and Guidant vastly expands the possibilities to enhance research into gene therapy," said Gail Habicht, Ph.D., Stony Brook vice president for research.
Research will be conducted in four laboratories at the universities: those of Michael R. Rosen, M.D., Gustavus A Pfeiffer Professor of Pharmacology and professor of pediatrics at Columbia; Richard B. Robinson, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology at Columbia; Ira S. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., Leading Professor of Physiology & Biophysics at Stony Brook; and Peter R. Brink, Ph.D., professor and chairman of Physiology and Biophysics at Stony Brook. The research grew out of collaborations between Columbia's Center for Molecular Therapeutics, headed by Dr. Rosen, and Stony Brook's Institute of Molecular Cardiology, headed by Dr. Cohen.
"Our partnership with Guidant provides an opportunity to convert research done by scientists at our two universities into modalities whose ultimate goal is the saving of lives," said Dr. Rosen. "Guidant's commitment to medical science here is truly commendable."
"We are very excited about the scientific possibilities that gene therapy may provide and welcome this association with Columbia and Stony Brook Universities," said Dr. Beverly Lorell, chief medical and technology officer, Guidant Corporation. "Guidant has a history of supporting innovative research that brings new therapy options to physicians and their patients. We look forward to deliberately moving the idea of a biological pacemaker from proof-of-concept to first human application."
Collaborative research at the two universities has demonstrated that adult human mesenchymal stem cells can be genetically engineered to express a specific gene responsible for the normal pacemaker function of heart cells. These cells are not embryonic and are obtained from adults.
The researchers have shown that when cells engineered in this way are placed in a specific region of the heart, they form linkages permitting direct communication with the heart muscle cells. The engineered cells emit a signal, carried by an ionic current that stimulates the hearts of experimental animals to generate a heartbeat similar to that of the heart's natural pacemaker, the sinoatrial node.