Scope, Symptoms & Current Treatment

An aortic aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge in the aorta, the large artery that carries blood from the heart through the chest and torso. An abdominal aortic aneurysm occurs below the chest. Abdominal aortic aneurysms happen more often than thoracic aortic aneurysms. Abdominal aortic aneurysms are more common in men and among people aged 65 years and older. Abdominal aortic aneurysms are usually caused by atherosclerosis (hardened arteries), but infection or injury can also cause them.

(Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention)

The Mayo Clinic identifies the following possible signs and symptoms of AAAs:

Abdominal aortic aneurysms often grow slowly and usually without symptoms, making them difficult to detect. Some aneurysms will never rupture. Many start small and stay small, although many expand over time. Others expand quickly. Predicting how fast an abdominal aortic aneurysm may enlarge is difficult.

As an abdominal aortic aneurysm enlarges, some people may notice:

  • A pulsating feeling near the navel
  • Deep, constant pain in your abdomen or on the side of your abdomen
  • Back pain

They recommend that if you have any of these signs and symptoms, such as sudden severe back or abdominal pain, get immediate emergency help. An abdominal ultrasound can identify the existence of an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm.

CMMRF Discoveries

  • Our center is the first in the world to discover that mesenchymal stem cells can “turn on” immune regulatory cells and prevent aortic aneurysm expansion. We are the first to launch a clinical trial funded through Veterans Administration grants that is treating patients with mesenchymal stem cells to prevent aneurysm expansion.
  • We have determined that aortic aneurysms are a result of an auto-immune response to proteins in the aorta, specifically to a protein called elastin.
  • We have discovered a sensitive biomarker that predicts the presence of aortic aneurysms in patients, analyzing the ratio of Tr1:Th17 cells.

Progress Toward the Future

  • Mouse models of aortic aneurysm developed through Cryptic Masons Research funding, we are testing our hypothesis that the chronic inflammation associated with aneurysm formation leads to heart failure.
  • Working with collaborators at Northwester University we are using state of the art nanoparticle technology that will prevent patients from developing this immune response and prevent aneurysms from even starting.
  • We will be testing the Tr1:Th17-ratio biomarker for its accuracy in diagnosing aneurysms in patients but more importantly, to see if this ratio predicts who will develop an aneurysm over their lifetime.
  • We have created a genetically modified mesenchymal stem cell that secretes high levels of interleukin-10, a powerful anti-inflammatory protein. This specialized stem cell is being produced in collaboration with the IU Center for Immunology and we expect to be able to use this new stem cell in patients within the next year.
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