Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH) is a progressive, fatal disease of the pulmonary vasculature. Affected patients have a poor prognosis, and treatment options are limited. New scientific evidence is therefore all the more important to understand this severe disease. For their research activities in this area, Dr. Astrid Weiß and Moritz Neubauer, members of the work group “Pulmonary Pharmacotherapy” of Prof. Dr. Ralph Schermuly at Department 11 – Medicine at Giessen University (JLU), have recently been awarded the research prize of the charitable René Baumgart Foundation worth 5,000 euros in prize money.

For the 16th time, the research prize of the charitable René Baumgart Foundation had been announced for scientific studies carried out in the area of Pulmonary Hypertension (PH). A total of six highly qualified scientific studies had been submitted, which, according to Dr. med. Hans Klose from the Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE), made it quite difficult for the jury to make a decision. The award-winning studies comply with important assessment criteria such as uniqueness, innovation, and clinical relevance.

PAH is mainly characterized by structural changes to the arterial wall in the lungs (pulmonary vascular remodeling). The excessive growth of various cell types, especially of the pulmonary arterial smooth muscle cells, causes narrowing of the inner diameter of the blood vessels, in particular in the finest branches. This results in increased resistance with elevated blood pressure in the bloodstream of the lungs. In the long term, the condition leads to reduced heart performance and, ultimately, right heart failure, i.e. the part of the heart that supplies the lungs with blood.

In their study “Targeting cyclin-dependent kinases for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension”, Dr. Astrid Weiß and Moritz Neubauer were looking for signaling pathways explaining the excessive growth of vascular cells. They observed that a group of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs), in particular CDK2, CDK4, and CDK6, are overactivated in the abnormally growing cells. During the lifecycle of cells, CDKs control cell growth and division. Increased activity of these CDKs could be demonstrated in diseased human lung samples as well as in samples obtained from animal models. Pharmacological inhibition of the CDKs improved PAH symptoms both at a cellular level and in the animal study. According to Prof. Schermuly, the excellent work of the DZL researchers based in Giessen could be the first step toward the introduction of a new drug into clinical routine in the treatment of patients with PAH, providing them with a perspective for life without pulmonary hypertension.

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