A Hungarian researcher could bring the era of simple healing of heart damage

30 March 2023

A revolutionary breakthrough in treating various cardiovascular diseases could be made possible with the protein analysed by the Biochemistry and Medical Chemistry Department of the University of Pécs Medical School and János Szentágothai Research Centre. The protein was discovered to have unique characteristics by the research group led by dr. Ildikó Bock-Marquette. The protein could hopefully get to patients in the foreseeable future. The work of the researcher was rewarded with an important international scientific award.

The so called thymosin beta-4 could regenerate damaged hearth tissue even as a simple intravenous injection. The potential effects on heart regeneration and its use cases were discovered by the researcher of the UP Medical School and the János Szentágothai Research Centre, dr. Ildikó Bock-Marquette within the scope of an international cooperation.

“The protein we are dealing and similar ones we are looking for are interesting small molecules that have the ability to regenerate tissue after damage by “reminding” the adult organ or tissue of their embryonic state. All of this has the huge advantage that based on our research, it also works intravenously, therefore we hope that simple to use medications could be manufactured from it” – explains the researcher.

The thymosin beta-4 protein, produced by the thymus gland, has been known since 1966, but its effects on heart regeneration were only discovered in the past few years from the work of dr. Ildikó Bock-Marquette and her colleagues. There were ideas and theories before, and the researcher was inspired by one of her professors, the elder Miklós Kellermayer. He has thought in the 1980s that the small proteins secreted by cells could be highly important.

Ildikó Bock-Marquette started researching the characteristics of this protein in 1999 in the United States, where she was able to move with a scholarship in 1996. She was mainly dealing with cardiovascular and core muscle regeneration in research groups led by Prof. Dr. Eric N. Olson and Prof. Dr. Deepak Srivastava in Dallas. After six years of research, they have managed to discover the heart regeneration characteristic of the thymosin beta-4 peptide, and after publishing several scientific articles about the topic, she has moved back home in the early 2010s, bringing her research topic with her. Her workgroup in the UPMS Biochemistry and Medical Chemistry Department and the János Szentágothai Research Centre is researching proteins with similar characteristics.

One tiny protein, thousands of huge opportunities

These proteins could be widely used in various therapy methods. One of their use cases would be bioprinting, a process for creating three-dimensional tissue structures, where they could serve as stimulants for the printed cells. The research group in Pécs and some local clinicians are working to discover the regenerative effects of thymosin beta-4 on other organs, which could have a giant impact on the treatment for congenital and acquired diseases, for example post-Covid syndromes.

Right now, we are looking for the binding protein that would connect the molecule to the cells, and we are studying how the protein transforms stem cells into differentiated heart cells. My relationship with my former research leader, Deepak Srivastava, plays an important role in this; he is currently the director of the Gladstone Institute, who, among others, are researching cardiovascular diseases. This is where professor Jamanaka Sinja works, who has received a Nobel prize for his work in creating so-called inducted pluripotent stem cells. This incredible discovery means that cells making up various tissue in our body can be transformed back into pluripotent stem cells, that can then be transformed into any other type of tissue. This is where we hope to get the cells needed for the research from”

– outlines the exciting future projects the Pécs researcher.

While the group is researching the use cases of thymosin beta-4 and other similar proteins, the clinical trials about heart tissue regeneration are happening in the United States. The results of these research show that the predicted dose of the protein does not have serious side effects, which opens the road for further tests and pharmaceutical developments.

Dr. Bock-Marquette Ildikó was awarded the Abraham White Lifetime Science Award in 2022 October. The prestige of the award is shown that there are 9 Nobel prize winners among the 29 recipients so far. The award was given to the Hungarian researcher by professor Allan L. Goldstein, the discoverer of the thymosin beta-4 peptide. More details about the lifetime award are available on the website of the Pécs Medical School: https://aok.pte.hu/hu/hirek/hir/15629

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