Why are we doing this study?
Atherosclerosis has become the leading cause of death among middle-aged and older Americans. The process of plaque build-up in the arteries starts early in life as fat and cholesterol gets deposited in arterial walls. When the build-up reaches a critical level, it can cause narrowing of the artery which leads to heart attacks, strokes and poor circulation in general. The plaque build-up is called “atheroma.”
Can atherosclerosis be prevented?
Studies show that staying fit, eating a healthy diet and keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar under control can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. Stopping smoking is important to reduce the risk of vascular disease.
While helpful, these interventions do not remove the risk entirely, and people are still having heart attacks and strokes. It is possible that other pathways are playing a role in vascular disease.
Dr. Semenkovich and colleagues have spent years studying the problem of atherosclerosis. Their research has led to discoveries about novel genes and metabolic pathways that may contribute to atherosclerosis in susceptible individuals. They have discovered that an old drug, chloroquine, prevents vascular disease in animals with a particular gene mutation and appears to have beneficial effects in humans.
What have the animal studies shown?
Dr. Semenkovich and colleagues have found that the drug chloroquine can stop plaque buildup in the blood vessels of mice bred with a genetic predisposition for atherosclerosis. In a study done at Washington University, Dr. Semenkovich and colleagues found that just a small dose of chloroquine lowered blood pressure, reduced the hardening and narrowing of the arteries and improved glucose tolerance in these mice. The end result was that the mice developed less atherosclerosis.
What do we do now?
The next step is to test the hypothesis that low dose chloroquine can prevent progression of atherosclerosis in people. This important clinical trial was started in 2007, and is now recruiting participants at Washington University.
The study is registered on ClinicalTrials.gov
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