Vascular calcification is a major issue for people who have chronic kidney disease. However, help appears to be on the way for these patients, as scientists in Switzerland have developed a new molecule that can prevent the problem.
The researchers from ETH Zurich reported their discovery in the journal Nature Communications.
“Calcification occurs when calcium phosphate crystals are deposited in tissue,” said ETH Professor Jean-Christophe Leroux. “The compound adheres to calcium phosphate crystals, inhibiting their growth.”
Altered metabolism in patients can make calcium salts to accumulate in soft tissues, including blood vessels and heart valves. These deposits result in the stiffening of these tissues.
Vascular calcification makes people with chronic kidney disease more susceptible to cardiovascular disease, which could lead to death.
The new molecule could potentially help to deal with tissue stiffening and, thus, prevent more severe consequences.
According to the researchers, the new molecule is similar to inositol hexakisphosphate. This naturally-occurring substance also goes under the name Myo-inositol hexakisphosphate (IP6).
Present in cereals and legumes, IP6 helps to bind phosphate with other minerals, including calcium and magnesium. It assists in ensuring an adequate supply of these minerals in plant seeds.
Scientists had known before now that the natural substance exerts an effect in the bloodstream of humans. A major impediment, however, is that the body cannot absorb it when taken orally – it must be injected.
Lead author Antonia Schantl, a doctoral student working with Leroux, noted that a concern with IP6 is its poor stability. The body metabolizes it quite rapidly.
The researchers, therefore, set out to find a way of stabilizing the natural substance by making some chemical alterations. They came up with a number of similar molecules, which they patented.
Leroux and his colleagues then created an offshoot company Inositec AG and transferred their license to it. This move was to enable them to sell any of the developed molecules as a drug at some point.
The ETH Zurich team, led by Leroux, then worked with Inositec and scientists from other universities in Europe and North America to identify the best molecule from the collection.
Through in vitro experiments, the researchers assessed the ability of the natural derivatives to block the buildup of calcium salts in the blood. They studied the stability of the molecules as well.
The scientists went further to look into the effect of the modified compounds in a rat model of a disease.
The analysis led to the identification of a substance seen as most fitting for fighting vascular calcification.
However, the new molecule is not yet ready for use by patients. Researchers first need to carry out more tests to determine the ideal dose and safety, among other issues.
According to a Science Daily report, there are currently other ongoing trials to determine how helpful IP6 can be for preventing vascular calcification.