Scientists have found that injecting so-called “super-old” genes into failing heart cells regenerates them, making them function as if they were 10 years younger.
The discovery opens the door to treating or preventing heart failure by reprogramming damaged cells.
Scientists have long suspected that people living over 100 years old must have a unique genetic code that protects them from the ravages of old age.
Previous studies have shown that carriers of the BP1FB4 gene variant enjoy a long life and fewer heart problems.
In new experiments, researchers at the University of Bristol inserted a gene variant into a harmless virus and then injected it into older mice. They found that it set the heart’s biological clock back by the human equivalent of 10 years.
When introduced into damaged older human heart cells in the lab, the gene also triggered heart regeneration, stimulating the building of new blood vessels and restoring lost function.
Hope for improvement in heart treatment
Paolo Madeddu, Professor of Experimental Cardiovascular Medicine at the Bristol Heart Institute at the University of Bristol, said: “Our findings confirm that a healthy mutant gene can reverse the decline in heart function in the elderly.
“We are now interested in finding out if giving the protein instead of the gene might also work. Gene therapy is widely used to treat diseases caused by bad genes. However, protein-based treatment is safer and more cost-effective than gene therapy.”
How well the heart can pump blood throughout the body deteriorates with age, but the rate at which damaging changes occur is not the same in all people.
Lifestyle choices can speed up or slow down the biological clock, but the inheritance of protective genes is also crucial.
The study showed for the first time that such genes found in centenarians could be transferred to unrelated people to protect their hearts.
Monica Cattaneo, a researcher at the MultiMedica Group in Milan and the first author of the paper, said: “By adding the longevity gene to the test tube, we observed a process of rejuvenation of the heart: the heart cells of older patients with heart failure have resumed normal functioning, proving to be more efficient at building new blood vessels.” .
Commenting on the results, Professor James Leiper, deputy medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which funded the research, said: “We all want to know the secrets of aging and find out how we can slow down age-related diseases.
“Our heart function declines as we age, but this research has remarkably revealed that a gene variant commonly found in long-lived humans can stop and even reverse heart aging in mice.
“It’s still in its early stages, but it could one day provide a revolutionary way to treat people with heart failure and even stop the development of the debilitating condition.”
The study was published in the journal Cardiovascular Research.