Omaida C. Velazquez, M.D., chair of the DeWitt Daughtry Family Department of Surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, was honored with the 29th Robert W. Binkley Professorship at the University of California, San Francisco. In her virtual lecture she described her cardiovascular research in gene therapy to prevent future amputations.
“For the last three decades, the event has been delivering contributions of fascinating discoveries in the cardiovascular field,” said Dr. Velazquez, the David Kimmelman Endowed Chair in Vascular and Endovascular Surgery. “This has given me the opportunity to follow a tradition of great lecturers, while being able to showcase my expertise on a topic that has much promise and is close to my heart.”
The April 28 lecture, titled “Restoration of Healing in Ischemic Tissues Using Gene and Cell Therapies: E-Selectin, an Emerging Vascular Regenerative Platform,” described a 15-year research endeavor, with the most groundbreaking results emerging in the past three years. The research conducted by Dr. Velazquez and her Miller School colleague Zhao-Jun Liu, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of surgery, aims to provide an answer for saving limbs, regenerating the circulation in peripheral vascular and coronary ischemic diseases, and accelerating healing in many forms of chronic wounds.
The process starts with the delivery of specific genetic material, much like in some of the COVID-19 vaccine technology, but using an adeno-associated viral vector. The delivered protein payload is used to induce the cells to create more blood vessels in the area that needs it. This can be done by direct gene transfer into the affected limb or through a gene-modified regenerative cell, to promote tissue development.
The next step will be pilot clinical studies, a process made possible with the help of U Innovation, which served as a guide in filling out preliminary applications and disseminating knowledge to investor groups. The pilot trial is planned to take place in Poland, where nine participants with Buerger’s disease are to be treated with the technology.
Earlier this year Dr. Velazquez was chosen to present Yale University’s prestigious fifth annual “Women in Surgery” lecture and related seminars in celebration of Women’s History Month. She took the opportunity to describe the urgent need to increase the involvement of women at all levels of academic medicine.
Dr. Velazquez has also been invited to lecture again at next year’s UCSF event, where she hopes to provide an update on the findings in the clinical trial. She is also working to get closer to FDA-approved U.S. trials where hundreds of patients will participate to test the technologies’ success at treating peripheral vascular disease.
“As one can imagine, it’s really an extra burden of time and effort to advance discoveries from the research bench to clinical testing,” Dr. Velazquez said. “While it is easier to make a discovery, publish it, feature it in one’s CV in the form of a peer-reviewed manuscript, and then leave it at that, to get to this stage requires tremendous perseverance and a desire to see people being helped by discovery. We couldn’t just leave such findings at the preclinical research level, but rather felt the need to contribute and fill the gap and address the unsolved need among vascular patients.”