Double agent

Anti-CD47 cancer treatment has been found to help atherosclerosis

Photo of a wreath heart, by Mugenia from Flickr

A treatment that could help immune cells destroy cancer cells might also reduce the inflammation that causes atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in arteries, research shows.

Stanford School of Medicine researchers first suspected the treatment’s dual benefit in 2016, building on research from the lab of stem cell biologist Irving Weissman, MD. Weissman’s lab discovered that antibodies called anti-CD47 can conceal molecules on cancer cell surfaces that keep immune cells from killing them.

Masking those molecules helps these immune cells — macrophages — devour the cancer cells.

In research published Jan. 28 in the New England Journal of Medicine, Stanford vascular medicine physician Nicholas Leeper, MD, and his colleagues studied whether anti-CD47 antibodies, which are in clinical trials for many types of cancer, could also treat atherosclerosis.

The researchers tracked nine trial participants with a blood cancer called non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma who also had atherosclerosis. After nine weeks, eight of them had lower levels of arterial inflammation, suggesting that anti-CD47 antibodies could help macrophages scavenge the cells responsible for plaque.

Though more research is needed, Leeper, the study’s senior author, said, “The concept of this is truly independent from everything else we can currently offer to patients with cardiovascular disease.”