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Gene therapy enables patriarch to resume activities (12-31-99)

When he was 32, Crisoforo "Chris" De Los Santos Jr. of Premont, a town 151 miles south of San Antonio, underwent triple bypass surgery.

With a wife and four children, De Los Santos had neither the time nor patience to let heart disease interrupt his life. He worked full time in town and ran the family farm passed down to him by his father and grandfather.

However, 10 years after his first operation, he was wheeled into surgery for a quadruple bypass procedure in 1985. Another 10 years later, in 1995, his physician tried different medicines to help his failing heart.

"Before I met Dr. Steven Bailey at the Health Science Center, my health was progressively getting worse. I was going downhill fast," De Los Santos said. After suffering a mild heart attack in 1998, he went back to surgery to have a stent inserted in an attempt to clear blocked arteries. "At that time I was alive, but I couldnít do much."

As his health continued to deteriorate, talk began about a heart transplant. With his name on the transplant waiting list, De Los Santos kept looking for another answer. He found one in an innovative research study on gene therapy being conducted by Steven Bailey, M.D., professor of medicine, and his colleagues at the Health Science Center. The double-blind, placebo-controlled study is being conducted at 20 sites nationwide.

The gene therapy, called angiogenesis, involves delivery of a growth factor directly to the coronary arteries. The growth factor, Recombinant Fibroblast Growth Factor 2 (rFGF-2), helps promote the growth of new collateral vessels to compensate for blocked arteries.

The study is geared to individuals, like De Los Santos, whose hearts are failing because of clogged blood vessels and the resulting oxygen deficiency but who have no other major health problems. Pre-clinical studies showed that rFGF-2 works by inducing cells along existing blood vessels to grow and divide, resulting in the growth of new blood vessels that can increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart.

Gene therapy is for people who have tried all the other options, Dr. Bailey said.

"They canít have other surgeries or percutaneous intervention because the entire length of the vessels is blocked. One in seven patients with disease of the heart vessels falls into this category. It is very exciting to be able to offer these patients an opportunity to resume more normal activites," Dr. Bailey said.

De Los Santos received the growth factor in April during a minimally invasive procedure that is similar to a heart catheterization.

"Before I had the procedure, I was in pain all the time," he said. Shortly after the procedure, De Los Santos started noticing that he wasnít having chest pains. "It has made a great difference in my life. Iím off the transplant list. My quality of life has improved considerably. I can enjoy my family and my grandchildren now," he said.

Contact: Will Sansom or Catherine Duncan