OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A discovery at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation could lead to treatment for heart valve conditions that affect millions of people across the country.

“Our discovery is kind of an entry point for us to understand the pathways that are involved, the mechanisms that are involved in these human patients,” Dr. Sathish Srinivasan said.

Srinivasan described our heart as a house with four rooms, and between those rooms are valves that act as doors regulating blood flow.

The sad reality is old age, high fat diets, lack of exercise, smoking and even simple genetics can cause problems with valves over time.

“They can become much bigger than what they normally are, or they can accumulate blood and immune cells on the surface,” Srinivasan said.

Clots and backflow are also included in those deficiencies.

Srinivasan said 10 percent of people over the age of 65 will experience issues with their heart valves and most of them won’t even show any symptoms.

Srinivasan said his study found two proteins helping valves in the lymphatic system are also key for heart valve function. If someone doesn’t have one or both of them, problems can persist.

So, they worked to see if the proteins jobs could be replicated through researching an FDA-approved drug used to inhibit a molecule found in some cancers.

“We used this drug, and we were able to show that these mice, the valve defects were significantly reduced by this drug,” he said.

The discovery is just the beginning to a study that Srinivasan said he hopes will show more promise for the future.

“Our goal moving forward is to understand what other potential drugs we can use to make them less severe and whether this is also relevant to human disease,” he said.