$50K Awarded for Research on Cardiac Sarcoidosis Biomarkers

Nabeel Hamzeh, MD, is studying if heart cell-specific cfDNA is an inflammation biomarker

Patricia Valerio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Valerio, PhD |

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The Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research (FSR) has awarded pulmonologist Nabeel Hamzeh, MD, at the University of Iowa, a $50,000 grant to develop blood biomarkers of cardiac sarcoidosis.

His project, titled “Cardiac-Specific Cell Free DNA Biomarkers for Cardiac Sarcoidosis,” will focus on the biomarker potential of heart cell-specific circulating cell-free DNA (cfDNA), or short DNA fragments released into circulation from dying or damaged cells.

“FSR is thrilled to support this extraordinary project through our first-ever cardiac sarcoidosis-specific grant,” Mary McGowan, FSR’s CEO, said in a foundation press release.

“Our sarcoidosis research group is honored and excited to receive the cardiac sarcoidosis grant award,” said Hamzeh, a professor of internal medicine-pulmonary, critical care, and occupational medicine at the university. “The grant will significantly augment our ongoing efforts to investigate the role of two novel biomarkers reflective of ongoing active myocarditis [heart muscle inflammation] in cardiac sarcoidosis.”

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$150K Awarded to Research Seeking to Identify Sarcoidosis Biomarkers

In sarcoidosis, small clumps of inflammatory immune cells, called granulomas, form in different tissues and organs, ultimately affecting how well they work.

Up to a quarter of sarcoidosis patients are estimated to have subclinical, or asymptomatic, heart involvement (cardiac sarcoidosis), with only about 5% developing symptoms.

When granulomas build up in the heart muscle, they can make it beat irregularly and pump blood less efficiently, and also promote inflammation. This condition is called granulomatous myocarditis.

Despite advances in research, there are no biomarkers to detect active myocarditis in sarcoidosis patients and advanced imaging techniques are not practical and are linked to high radiation exposure.

Identifying biomarkers of granulomatous myocarditis in sarcoidosis may help guide therapeutic decisions and monitor treatment response.

We know this research will yield remarkable outcomes and learnings instrumental in improving and saving the lives of those impacted by cardiac sarcoidosis.

Hamzeh and his team want to evaluate whether heart cell-specific cfDNA — which can be detected in a blood sample through a new technique that can discriminate the tissue source of cfDNA — can be used as a biomarker of active heart-muscle inflammation in sarcoidosis patients.

A clinical trial (NCT03858777) Hamzeh is sponsoring is currently testing just that. The study seeks to recruit up to 120 participants, including sarcoidosis patients with and without active myocarditis, those having surgery for heart attack, and healthy people. Enrollment may still be active at the University of Iowa.

“We know this research will yield remarkable outcomes and learnings instrumental in improving and saving the lives of those impacted by cardiac sarcoidosis,” McGowan said.

The FSR has awarded more than $6 million for sarcoidosis studies to date.