Basic cardiovascular science congress set to stimulate public discussion on genome editing

20 to 22 April in Vienna, Austria

Sophia Antipolis 23 March 2018. The European Society of Cardiology’s (ESC) basic science congress is set to stimulate public discussion on the use of genome editing and other cutting edge technologies to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Frontiers in CardioVascular Biology (FCVB) 2018 is organised by the Council on Basic Cardiovascular Science of the ESC in collaboration with 12 European cardiovascular science societies. It will be held from 20 to 22 April at the Austria Centre Vienna. The full scientific programme is available here.

“One of the cutting-edge topics we will discuss at the congress is CRISPR-Cas 9 technology, which makes genome editing much easier,” said congress programme chair Professor Johann Wojta. “We can cut out mutations in a gene and replace them with a sequence that does not cause disease.”

Germline genome editing, which is performed in either the oocyte or sperm, could be used to prevent disease – for example hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is caused by a mutation in the MYBPC3 gene. It could also be used to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by, for example, introducing a loss-of-function in the PCSK9 gene, thereby interfering with cholesterol levels. Another application could be to introduce advantageous or otherwise desirable traits such as athletic ability.

Professor Wojta said: “We need public engagement and discussion about how scientists should proceed with germline genome editing, which is a promising tool but raises important and serious ethical questions.”

Tissue engineering will also be explored at the congress. The technique could be used in patients with end-stage heart failure by growing a patch of healthy cells outside the body and then implanting it into the damaged area of the heart to support its pump function.

Professor Wojta said: “We will also discuss a futuristic method of tissue engineering in which a human or animal heart is stripped of cells and repopulated with healthy cells.”

Experts will present the latest data linking gut bacteria and their metabolites with health and disease. Certain combinations have been associated with atherosclerosis, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and heart failure.

“We haven’t yet discovered the mechanistic link between the gut microbiota and disease and this is an active area of research,” said Professor Wojta. “Research is also being conducted on how to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria by ingesting a fibre-rich diet, probiota (‘good’ bacteria), or prebiota (bacterial ‘food’ such as oligosaccharides). Antibiotics are being investigated but caution is needed in this area because we might need some species of bacteria in the gut to prevent the development of atherosclerosis.”

Leaders in the field of cell therapy, in which stem cells or progenitor cells are injected into the patient to repair a damaged heart, will explore the pros and cons of this technique and discuss why meta-analyses of randomised trials assessing cell therapy to promote cardiac repair in myocardial infarction have reported conflicting results.

Professor Wojta said: “Another issue is that the results of cell therapy have been promising in animal models but modest in humans. One explanation is that we have used young, healthy animals with artificially induced myocardial infarction whereas patients are older, unhealthy, and have developed coronary heart disease over years or decades until experiencing a myocardial infarction.”

He concluded: “Cell therapy is an area of research in which we moved very quickly from the bench to the bedside. We need to go back to the bench and come up with more relevant animal models that could give us better solutions for use in humans.”