Gracias Family Foundation gives $3 million to help drive a cure for heart disease

The Gracias Family Foundation has committed $3 million to new early-stage nanomedicine research led by the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering aimed at reducing atherosclerosis, the inflammation of the arteries that can lead to heart attack, at the cellular level.

“The Gracias Family Foundation and Antonio Gracias have shown tremendous leadership on this critically important health issue that affects all Americans,” Paul Alivisatos, president of the University of Chicago, said. “The investment by the Gracias Foundation will support the research and teaching activity of UChicago faculty who are driving toward a cure.”

The leading cause of death in the United States across gender, racial and ethnic groups, heart disease is now attributed to 1 in every 5 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Like many Americans, my family also has been touched by heart disease,” Antonio Gracias, JD’98, of Valor Equity Partners and Trustee of the University of Chicago said. “The Gracias Family Foundation is happy to invest in early-stage science that seeks a cure for the number one killer of Americans. I am pleased to be able to help the University of Chicago, my alma mater, work toward solving some of society’s biggest challenges.”

Gracias founded Valor Equity Partners in 1995. He has more than 25 years of experience in private equity investing and was a Director of Tesla from 2007 to 2021. During his tenure, he served as Lead Independent Director for eight years, and helped take Tesla public. He is a Director of several Valor portfolio companies, including Space Exploration Technologies.  Gracias joined the University of Chicago Board of Trustees in 2021 and is a member of the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering Advisory Council.

The research on heart disease, a collaboration between Matthew Tirrell, professor and dean of the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, and Yun Fang, professor of medicine in the Biological Sciences Division, could ultimately lead to better treatments for humans who suffer from complications of vascular disease. Vascular diseases such as atherosclerosis can lead to serious complications, like heart attack or stroke. But many treatments for these diseases target systemic risk factors, such as reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, rather than addressing the damaged blood vessels themselves.

Tirrell and Fang have developed a targeted nanomedicine treatment to deliver an inhibitor directly to inflamed blood vessel cells caused by atherosclerosis. The nanoparticle uses a peptide to target the vascular cell and delivers the inhibitor directly to the damaged cells, reducing inflammation, which has seen early success in the laboratory. More research is needed to lead the discovery forward, which is now being conducted collaboratively with PME Professor Jeffrey Hubbell, along with Tirrell and Fang.

“We are immensely grateful to Antonio and the Gracias Family Foundation for this generous and impactful gift,” Tirrell said. “If we are successful, this treatment could provide an important tool to help combat heart disease.”