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Israeli researchers find connection between heart disease and cancer

A 3D rendered medically accurate illustration of too many white blood cells due to leukemia. (SciePro/Shutterstock)
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According to the team from the Haifa Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, their findings “could potentially help cardio-oncologists slow cancer progression and improve cancer outcomes.”

By ILANIT CHERNICK

In a groundbreaking study, a team of researchers from the Haifa Technion – Israel Institute of Technology has claimed that there is a connection between heart disease and cancer.

The findings, the researchers explained, “could potentially help cardio-oncologists slow cancer progression and improve cancer outcomes.” 

The team, led by Professor Ami Aronheim, Professor Yuval Shaked and Dr. Shimrit Avraham from the Faculty of Medicine at the Technion, determined that early changes in the heart resulting from cardiac disease or damage, known as cardiac remodeling, can advance cancer progression.

According to several recent studies, there are indications that cancer and cardiovascular diseases are connected, and that heart failure and stress correlate with a poor cancer prognosis. 

They highlighted that although a connection has been found between chemotherapy drugs and possible damage to the heart muscle, “the effects of cardiac remodeling on cancer are not well known” and this is what inspired their research

In a bid to discover the connection between cardiac remodeling and cancer, the team, which also included colleagues from Carmel Hospital Professor Walid Saliba and Professor Avinoam Shiran, investigated whether early cardiac remodeling in the absence of heart failure promotes cancer. 

Their research included mimicking cardiac remodeling and to do so they collaborated with the Preclinical Research Authority, led by Dr. Rona Shofti and Dr. Tali Haas, and used a laboratory technique called transverse aortic constriction (TAC) “to exert mechanical pressure on the hearts of laboratory mice.” 

In their study, the team explained that what TAC does is stress the heart of mice with a pressure overload and this results “in an increase in heart cell growth called hypertrophy, which is a common effect of cardiovascular complications.” 

Following this, the team then implanted cancer cells into the TAC-operated mice to see if early cardiac remodeling affects tumor progression.

Their study found that the TAC-operated mice developed larger tumors at the site of the implanted cancer cells. 

The TAC-operated mice also displayed a higher rate of cancer cells seeding to the lungs, representing metastases – or secondary tumors spread from the original lesion – when comparing these results with non-TAC-operated mice. 

These results make it clear that there is a direct connection between cardiovascular disease and cancer, and highlight the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of cardiac disease in cancer patients. 

“Such intervention has the potential to significantly lessen cancer progression and improve cancer outcomes,” the team said.

Discussing the findings Aronheim said that following the results of their study, “we recommend that you treat heart problems early, when the body is still successfully coping with the problem, and not wait for a chronic condition.”

He stressed that “such problems can be detected with a simple echocardiography test, and in many cases, early catheterization may help to slow cancerous development.”

During the study, the team also discovered that serum derived from TAC-operated mice resulted in enhanced cancer cell advancement in cell cultures.

“[This] could indicate that tumor-promoting proteins are present in blood from the TAC-operated mice,” the team explained. “Specifically, a protein called Periostin, which is highly expressed in the hearts of the TAC-operated mice.”

To investigate the effects of Periostin on cancer cells, the researchers studied how it affected cancer cells in vitro – meaning outside of the living organism. 

They found that the addition of purified Periostin enhanced cancer cell advancement, and that the depletion of Periostin from mouse serum lowered cancer cell proliferation (in vitro). 

The research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) and was published last week in the scientific journal Circulation.

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