MAJOR BREAKTHROUGH IN TREATING FIBROTIC DISEASES
Singapore scientists discover that critical protein interleukin1 11 (IL11) causes fibrosis and organ damage
It has long been known that a protein known as transforming growth factor beta 12 (TGFB1) is the major cause of fibrosis and scarring of body organs. Researchers from Duke-NUS and National Heart Centre Singapore have discovered that a critical protein interleukin1 (IL11) is in fact more important than TGFB1 for fibrosis, making it a better drug target. This is particularly crucial, as previously, treatments based on switching off TGFB1 have caused severe side effects.
Fibrosis is a very common cause of cardiovascular and renal disease, where excessive connective tissue destroys the structure and function of the organ with scar tissue. Singaporeans in particular are known to have a higher prevalence of coronary artery disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Kidney failure is also an epidemic in Singapore and around the world. Fibrosis of the heart and kidney can eventually lead to failure of these critical organs, making the discovery crucial in transforming the treatment of millions of people around the world.
The team involved in the research was led by Professor Stuart Cook along with Assistant
Professor Sebastian Schafer, both from NHCS and Duke-NUS’ Programme in Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disorders. The team also includes researchers from Harvard University and University of California, San Diego/UCSD (USA), Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine/MDC-Berlin (Germany), London Institute of Medical Sciences/ MRC-LMS and Imperial College London (UK) and the University of Melbourne (Australia).
In addition the research has also spurred the founding of a new company in Singapore to develop therapies to treat patients with fibrotic diseases. “We are proud to announce that the suite of intellectual property arising from this research has been licensed to a newly launched Singapore-funded biotechnology startup Enloefen Bio Pte Ltd, which is co-founded by Professor Cook and Assistant Professor Schafer,” said Professor Thomas Coffman, Dean of Duke-NUS Medical School. The groundbreaking research was also published online in the highly coveted science journal Nature on 13 November 2017.
LEFT: Prof Stuart Cook led the international team that pioneered the research RIGHT: A simplified diagrammatic representation of the theory behind the breakthrough