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The Leducq Foundation has awarded $7.5 million to researchers at the University of Oxford and their collaborators to advance immunotherapy as a treatment for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the UK.

Claudia Monaco

Claudia Monaco, MD PhD, Professor of Cardiovascular Inflammation at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, NDORMS and Hon. Consultant Cardiologist at the OUH NHS Trust is part of an international team that will seek to use immunotherapy to better treat atherosclerosis, the process of narrowing of the arteries that causes myocardial infarction and stroke.

The Leducq Foundation, which is dedicated to battling cardiovascular disease and stroke, has funded a total of four projects worldwide for 2022, and one of those, called CHECKPOINT ATHERO, involves researchers at Mayo Clinic USA, Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen in the Netherlands, University of Oxford, Lund University in Sweden, Leiden University and Geisel School of Medicine in USA, led by Esther Lutgens (Mayo) and Willem Mulder (Nijmegen).

Immune checkpoints are a set of molecules that the body uses to keep its immune response in check and they are at the crossroads of cancer and cardiovascular disease, the two biggest killers worldwide. Immunotherapy has already revolutionized cancer care, the researchers note. Monaco and her collaborators have identified five such checkpoints that are important in the development of atherosclerosis, and they will seek to direct these checkpoints to reduce harmful immune and inflammatory responses

Artistic re-interpretations of Uniform Manifold Approximation and Projection (UMAP) graphs of single cell datasets representing immune cells within a human atherosclerotic plaques.Artistic re-interpretations of Uniform Manifold Approximation and Projection (UMAP) graphs of single cell datasets representing immune cells within a human atherosclerotic plaques. 

“While we made strides in reducing heart attacks and stroke with lifestyle modification and cholesterol lowering, cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide. The immune system has emerged as an untargeted important factor in patients who receive gold standard therapy,” said Monaco. “Initial clinical trials targeting inflammation for cardiovascular disease are promising, providing hope that identification of novel agents and precision medicine approaches will reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease worldwide. The advent of vascular single cell biology opens a new chapter for understanding cell-cell interactions within the human atherosclerotic plaques and for diagnosing, monitoring, and treating disease. The CHECKPOINT ATHERO Leducq-funded transatlantic network will adopt knowledge from single cell atlases to learn to interfere with immune cell communications and provide safer therapies for CVD.”