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Merryman wins $6M to address heart disease with arthritis drug, fund other research

by Feb. 3, 2017, 8:00 AM

A Vanderbilt biomedical engineering professor has garnered $6 million total in grants to determine how to treat heart valve disease, pulmonary hypertension and heart failure using drugs originally developed for rheumatoid arthritis and applying the lessons learned from failed weight loss drugs.

The larger grant to Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering David Merryman – the result of one of only six winning R35 Emerging Investigator Award applications to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute so far – provides $5.3 million over seven years. It also funds his work in developing heart valves that may one day be able to grow along with children.

But Merryman said some of his most promising work in the fight against deadly heart disease lies in the study of Cadherin-11 (CDH-11), a protein that acts as an adhesive between fibroblast cells. It manifests after myocardial infarction and in heart valve disease, gradually stiffening the tissue in a process called fibrosis that leads to calcification in the valves and heart failure.

“The heart wall weakens,” Merryman said. “Part of your heart has died. The rest can’t do all the work. It dilates, gets bigger and can’t pump the blood anymore, and that leads to a second event that is often the fatal one.”



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