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NIH $2.2M grant funds research on heart attack treatments targeting immune system

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Holly Korschun

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Rebecca Levit, MD, assistant professor of medicine in Emory University School of Medicine’s Division of Cardiology, a five-year, $2.2 million RO1 grant for her cardiovascular research lab. Levit and her team will study methods to reduce the formation of an immune mechanism called neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs), which have been linked to heart disease, blood clots, atherosclerosis and other forms of cardiovascular disease.

After a heart attack, the body’s own immune system is activated by the damaged cells. The first immune cells to go to the heart are neutrophils, a cell type that is normally focused on clearing infectious bacteria. The neutrophils release various toxic substances that can further damage the heart. A recently discovered inflammatory process of neutrophils was described as NET formation, in which the DNA in the nucleus of neutrophils is released from the cell. While intended to capture and kill bacteria, this free DNA is destructive and damages the heart. With this funding, Levit’s lab will focus on developing new strategies to treat neutrophils and NETs after heart attacks.

“Very little is known about how the NET process is regulated in the body,” says Levit. “Better understanding of this process could lead to new treatments for heart attacks.”

Levit joined Emory in 2007 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. She spent seven years doing research and clinical training in cardiovascular disease. In 2014 she joined the Division of Cardiology faculty and is continuing her work on clinically translatable anti-inflammatory and stem cell therapies for cardiovascular disease.

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