Major Breakthrough in Taiwan–US Collaborative Research: New Gene Therapy Possibilities for Coronary Atherosclerosis


The Taiwan–US Collaborative Research Team, comprising researchers at Taipei Veterans General Hospital and National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, as well as Shu Chien, former academic at the University of California San Diego, has made a groundbreaking discovery: mRNA methylation plays a vital role in the development of coronary atherosclerosis. Inhibition of methyltransferase through gene therapy led to the prevention of intravascular inflammation and atherosclerosis. The findings provide new preventive opportunities for coronary atherosclerosis and are presented in a paper published in February 2021 in Vol. 118 of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Coronary atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease caused by blood flow blockage from the formation of plaques, aggregations of intravascular fat, in coronary vessels. The early-onset symptoms of atherosclerosis are difficult to identify. Coronary atherosclerosis may have severe manifestations, including angina pectoris, myocardial infarction, or even sudden cardiac death. Despite its serious outcomes, coronary atherosclerosis is generally not given the necessary attention by the Taiwanese public. The benefits of available treatments, which include medication prescribed by internal medicine physicians, cardiac catheterization, and coronary artery bypass grafting, are limited, and the occurrence of coronary atherosclerosis cannot be effectively prevented. Therefore, devising a rapid and effective preventive treatment is essential.

The COVID-19 vaccine produced by renowned US biotechnology company Moderna was developed on a key mRNA technology platform. This clinical application of mRNA technology for developing COVID-19 vaccine constitutes a major breakthrough. The Taiwan–US collaborative research team examined mRNA methylation in the vascular endothelium, performed bioengineering simulations of the coronary atherosclerosis development process, and examined the clinical specimens of coronary atherosclerosis, confirming that mRNA methylation contributes crucially to the pathogenesis of coronary atherosclerosis. Gene therapy effectively inhibited atherosclerosis-related inflammation; the results of an in vivo animal study revealed a significant reduction in arterial plaque buildup, which is conducive to atherosclerosis prevention.

This breakthrough provides new treatment directions for coronary atherosclerosis. The findings are expected to pave a path for the development of safe and effective treatments, as well as provide new clinical treatment options. The academic and industrial communities may contribute toward the research and development of pharmaceutical and gene therapy for coronary atherosclerosis prevention.



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