Jason Kovacic and the Media - The discovery could lead to new preventative treatments for atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease

Gene identified that drives build-up of plaque in arteries

New discovery paves the way for new treatment for coronary artery disease, Australia’s biggest killer

3 August 2021

Scientists have unmasked a critical gene that drives the build-up of plaque in the heart’s arteries. The discovery could lead to new preventative treatments for atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease, Australia’s biggest killer.

Professor Jason Kovacic, Executive Director of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, who directed the research, says: “Identifying the gene is a huge step to combatting coronary artery disease.

“The cells that line the blood vessels play an incredibly important role in heart health. We’ve known for some time that there is a switch that turns these cells from being healthy to ones that drive the build-up of plaque.

“After years of research, we’ve been able to identify a key gene that controls this process and understand how it works. Now we’ve identified the gene, we’re one step closer to blocking its ability from turning on in the first place.”

Atherosclerosis is a disease where the inside of the arteries are blocked by plaque. When the plaque breaks away, it can form blood clots that cause heart attacks.

Led by Prof Kovacic in work carried out at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the team discovered it’s a gene called histone deacetylase 9, or HDAC9 for short - which is critical to the development of atherosclerosis.

It causes the cells that line the blood vessels to switch into cells that accelerate the disease that leads to a build-up of plaques of fat and cholesterol in the arteries.

Professor Kovacic adds: “Every year millions of people die from the consequences of atherosclerosis. Drugs like statins help, but if we could stop this disease from occurring in the first place, that would be transformative in the treatment of heart disease.

“This opens the door to developing new drugs to silence this gene, literally deactivating it before it gets the chance to cause any damage, let alone cause a devastating heart attack.”

The research has been published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI).

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Man in the ocean with thumbs up

He thought he was dying – and he was. He was having a heart attack.

- Chris, Atherosclerosis patient

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years