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Cleveland Clinic researchers link gut flora with heart disease

Cleveland Clinic researchers have received a 5-year, $3.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study how the food we eat — combined with microorganisms in our gut and our genes — influence our risk of developing heart disease. The end-goal of the research? Develop novel treatments for preventing heart disease. Studies […]

Cleveland Clinic researchers have received a 5-year, $3.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study how the food we eat — combined with microorganisms in our gut and our genes — influence our risk of developing heart disease.

The end-goal of the research? Develop novel treatments for preventing heart disease.

Studies have indicated a connection between gut flora and the development of disorders like obesity, insulin resistance and fatty liver disease. However, a connection between gut flora and someone’s risk for developing heart disease has not yet been reported.

Dr. Stanley Hazen, section head of Preventative Cardiology at the Clinic and a staff member in Lerner Research Institute‘s Department of Cell Biology, has discovered that gut flora has an impact on heart disease development in both animals and humans.

Hazen, who is principal investigator on the NIH grant, and his colleagues Joseph DiDonato, Dr. W.H. Wilson Tang, Zeneng Wang, Dr. Steve Nicholls and Dr. Steve Nissen will study whether gut flora metabolism of  dietary lipids is linked to cardiovascular disease.

The researchers hope to identify byproducts from gut flora circulating in the blood that could contribute to heart disease development and serve as diagnostic markers of cardiac risk.

Such an identification would be another notch in Hazen’s research and commercialization belt. Last month, the Cleveland Clinic struck a research agreement with Plymouth, Michigan-based Esperion Therapeutics Inc. to develop “good cholesterol” therapies — based on Hazen’s research — to fight cardiovascular disease.

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A high-density lipoprotein (HDL)-related cardiac inflammation biomarker developed by Hazen and his colleagues also was the basis for Clinic spinoff company Cleveland HeartLab last year.

[Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH]