Some drugs have split personalities – aspirin cured headaches for 100 years before being taken for heart conditions – and it seems that a similar quality is possessed by cancer-killing bromodomain inhibitors. When given to mice, these experimental drugs prevented atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque inside arteries, which in humans is a major cause of circulation problems, heart attacks and strokes. Pictured is a cross-section of a human aorta, the main artery from the heart, partially blocked by this disease. Bromodomain inhibitors work by disrupting the production of certain protein complexes in cells. Researchers discovered that this not only destroys human cells with malignant tendencies but can also turn off a programme that makes endothelial cells lining the arteries attract and stick to white blood cells. While this sticky switch is a defence against infection, it can also promote atherosclerosis.
Written by Mick Warwicker
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