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Scientists discover a gene capable of rewinding heart age by 10 years

Researchers from Bristol University and Italy's MultiMedica Group announced the discovery of a gene that can rewind the biological age of the human heart by ten years, which could provide a potential target for heart failure patients.

Researchers recently demonstrated that one of these healthy mutant genes, previously found frequently among centenarians, can protect cells collected from patients with heart failure requiring cardiac transplantation, according to the findings of a study published in the journal Cardiovascular Research.

The researchers of the study, funded by the British Heart Foundation, believe the gene helps to keep their hearts young by protecting them against diseases linked to ageing, such as heart failure.

Professor Paolo Madeddu of Bristol University, who led the study said that they have has found that a single administration of the mutant anti-ageing gene halted the decay of heart function in middle-aged mice.

Remarkably, the study further found that when elderly mice, whose hearts exhibit the same alterations observed in elderly patients, were given gene therapy, it rewound the heart’s biological clock age by the human equivalent of more than ten years.

Explaining the study findings, Professor Madeddu said, “The heart and blood vessel function is put at stake as we age.”

“However, the rate at which these harmful changes occur is different among people. Smoking, alcohol, and sedentary life make the ageing clock faster. Whereas eating well and exercising delay the heart’s ageing clock,” he added.

“In addition, having good genes inherited from parents can help to stay young and healthy,” Professor Madeddu further added.

Elaborating that genes are sequences of letters that encode proteins, he added, “By chance, some of these letters can mutate. Most of these mutations are insignificant; in a few cases, however, the mutation can make the gene function worse or better, like for the mutant anti-ageing gene we have studied here on human cells and older mice.”

During the three-year study, researchers from the MultiMedica Group in Milan, led by Professor Annibale Puca, administered the gene in heart cells from elderly patients with severe heart problems, including transplantation in labs and then compared their function with those of healthy individuals.

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Commenting on the study findings, the first author of the study, MultiMedica researcher Dr Monica Cattaneo, said, “The cells of the elderly patients, in particular those that support the construction of new blood vessels, called 'pericytes', were found to be less performing and more aged.”

“By adding the longevity gene or protein to the test tube, we observed a process of cardiac rejuvenation, (where) the cardiac cells of elderly heart failure patients have resumed functioning properly, proving to be more efficient in building new blood vessels,” she added.

“Our findings confirm the healthy mutant gene can reverse the decline of heart performance in older people,” Professor Madeddu said.

“We are now interested in determining if giving the protein instead of the gene can also work. Gene therapy is widely used to treat diseases caused by bad genes. However, a treatment based on a protein is safer and more viable than gene therapy,” he added.

Pointing out that gene therapy has already been shown to prevent the onset of atherosclerosis, vascular ageing, and diabetic complications, and to rejuvenate the immune system,  Professor Annibale Puca, Head of the laboratory at the IRCCS MultiMedica and Professor at the University of Salerno, said, “We have a new confirmation and enlargement of the therapeutic potential of the gene/protein. We hope to test its effectiveness soon in clinical trials on patients with heart failure.”

Professor James Leiper, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the research, said, “We all want to know the secrets of ageing and how we might slow down the age-related disease. Our heart function declines with age, but this research has extraordinarily revealed that a variant of a gene that is commonly found in long-lived people can halt and even reverse the ageing of the heart in mice.

According to researchers, though still at an early stage, the research can one day provide a revolutionary way to treat people with heart failure and even stop the debilitating condition from developing in the first place

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