Armed with a new $1.8 million grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, dermatology researcher Nicole Ward, assistant professor of dermatology and neurosciences at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, will lead a study examining the link between psoriasis and heart attack and stroke.
The work will advance research conducted earlier this year in Ward’s lab. She and colleagues at the University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute published a major discovery: psoriasis could cause the development of cardiovascular disease in mouse models. The team of researchers also found that aggressive treatment of the skin disease reversed the cardiovascular disease.
“Prior to our recent publication, the evidence linking these two diseases was entirely at the epidemiological level and didn’t show mechanistic insight for why this occurred,” said Ward, who is also a scientist with the Murdough Family Center for Psoriasis at University Hospitals Case Medical Center. “Our goal was to examine whether psoriasis influences cardiovascular disease. Psoriasis was previously thought of as a disease that severely affected skin appearance as well as the patient’s quality of life. We now know it decreases a patient’s life span by seven years.”
Ward and colleagues will work to identify intrinsic changes in the skin cells and the subsequent cascade of events that leads to blood-clot formation in either heart attack or stroke. By identifying this trigger, the researchers hope to provide first-ever evidence that cell-specific events in psoriasis can be targeted for treatment.
This preclinical evidence will impact the approach to patient clinical care, as doctors will need to be more aggressive in monitoring for cardiovascular disease and other co-morbidities in those with moderate to severe-plaque psoriasis. By treating and keeping the skin disease in check, the risk for heart-related inflammation is reduced as well. In addition, they will conduct preclinical testing of the efficacy of current psoriasis medication on cardiovascular disease.
“Dr. Ward’s research discovery is quite exciting,” said Kevin Cooper, professor and chair of the Department of Dermatology at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and University Hospitals Case Medical Center. “It demonstrates for the first time that a mouse model of psoriasis exhibits a cardiovascular co-morbidity often seen in human psoriasis patients. Importantly, the basis of Dr. Ward’s grant demonstrates that aggressively treating the skin disease improved the cardiovascular complications associated with psoriasis. The work supported by this grant will help pinpoint how current therapeutics for psoriasis may also improve co-morbidities associated with chronic skin inflammation.”
This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Psoriasis Foundation, and the Murdough Family Center for Psoriasis.