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New study reveals cancer-like features in atherosclerosis

 U.S. researchers have discovered that the smooth muscle cells that line the arteries of people with atherosclerosis can change into new cell types and develop traits similar to cancer that worsen the disease, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Atherosclerosis is characterized by a narrowing of arterial walls and can increase risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease, or kidney disorders.

The findings could pave the way for the use of anti-cancer drugs to counteract the tumor-like mechanisms driving the buildup of plaque in the arteries, the major cause of cardiovascular disease, NIH said.

“This discovery opens up a whole new dimension for our understanding about therapeutic strategies for the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis,” said Ahmed Hasan, program director in the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of NIH.

“Previous research has suggested that atherosclerosis and cancer may share some similarities, but this association has not been fully described until now,” Hasan said.

Using a combination of molecular techniques in mouse models and tissue samples taken from patients with atherosclerosis, the researchers of the new study characterized the molecular mechanisms that drive the smooth muscle cells to transition into cancer-like cell types.

The researchers found increased rates of DNA damage and genomic instability – two hallmarks of cancer – in the converted smooth muscle cells of atherosclerotic plaque when compared to healthy tissue, according to the study.

Famagusta Gazette