Dr. Yerem Yeghiazarians

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

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SAN FRANCISCO — In a San Francisco lab, Dr. Yerem Yeghiazarians hopes to treat heart disease, stroke and a whole host of other serious illnesses with the pioneering use of stem cells and newly discovered technologies. Yeghiazarians is the Director of the University of California, San Francisco, Translational Cardiac Stem Cell Program.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the world. There are about one million heart attacks and about half a million strokes yearly in the U.S. Estimated cost of care for cardiovascular diseases is staggering (more than $320 billion). Yeghiazarians’ lab was the first to identify a specific protein secreted by stem cells that has the ability to protect heart muscle cells under low oxygen conditions that are created during a heart attack and the first to demonstrate that specific proteins secreted by stem cells have the ability to rescue dying brain cells during a stroke. The work is geared to treating patients who suffer a heart attack or a stroke with novel therapies that decrease the damage to the heart and the brain respectively. This will result in smaller heart attacks and lessen the chances of developing congestive heart failure after an event and also lessen the neurologic side effects from a devastating stroke.

Jianqin Ye, M.D., left, and Yerem Yeghiazarians, M.D., examine a cell sample at the UCSF Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell

According to Yeghiazarians, the factors secreted by the stem cells are the key in how stem cells improve the cardiac function. In fact, injecting the stem-cell-secreted proteins, even in the absence of live stem cells, improves cardiac function, decreases the scar size, and results in fewer dying heart muscle cells from a heart attack. This has led to the possibility of developing an off-the-shelf medication as a novel therapy.

The drug is in the development phase, which is expected to be completed within the next few years.

In addition to these exciting discoveries, Yeghiazarians’ lab has also developed a proprietary technology to assess the stress level of a cell and has automated the system. Using this technology, it has been able to perform high throughput testing of drugs to discover new therapies for a host of diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophies and diabetes.

Yeghiazarians was born in Iran and came to the United States in the wake of the Iranian Revolution at the age of 15 with his family, who settled in the Boston area. He received his undergraduate degree in biology and biochemistry from Brandeis University and later attended the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. He received his internal medicine and cardiology trainings and his chief residency at the Harvard-Medical-School-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston before coming to San Francisco in 2003.

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In addition to his duties at the lab, he is Professor of Medicine and holder of the Leone-Perkins Family Endowed Chair in Cardiology at UCSF. And also, he is Director of the Translational Cardiac Stem Cell Program, co-Director of the Adult Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory and Director of the Peripheral Intervenional Cardiology Program.

He is the immediate past president of the San Francisco Board of the American Heart Association.

The lab is now in the midst of a major fundraising drive with the goal of raising at least $10 million.

To find out more about the work of the lab, visit https://stemcell.ucsf.edu/cardiovascular-reaching-cure-0