Scientists say breakthrough treatment can turn back clock on ‘biological age’ of heart by a decade
BRISTOL, England– An anti-aging gene common in people who live to be 100 years-old has the ability to rewind the biological age of someone’s heart by 10 years! Researchers in the United Kingdom and Italy say they can turn this genetic mutation in centenarians into a treatment which helps others at risk for heart disease.
A team from the University of Bristol and the MultiMedica Group found that older adults with exceptional longevity often carry the healthy mutant gene BPIFB4. These people regularly live to be 100, live in so-called “blue zones,” and typically maintain good heart health throughout their lives.
Scientists believe BPIFB4 keeps the heart young by protecting it against age-related diseases like heart failure. The new study proved that scientists are capable of transplanting this protection into others who don’t have the gene — improving their cardiovascular health.
Results show administering a single mutant anti-aging gene to middle-aged mice stopped the decay in their heart function. In elderly mice, the gene actually “de-aged” their hearts by the human equivalent of 10 years!
“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 aging clock faster. Whereas eating well and exercising delay the heart’s aging clock,” says Bristol team leader Professor Paolo Madeddu in a university release.
“In addition, having good genes inherited from parents can help to stay young and healthy. Genes are sequences of letters that encode proteins. 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-aging gene we have studied here on human cells and older mice.”
The anti-aging treatment works on human hearts as well
The three-year study also examined how this potential treatment works on humans, using heart cells in a laboratory test tube. Researchers at the MultiMedica Group in Milan administered the gene to these heart cells, which came from elderly adults with a history of severe heart problems. Study authors then compared the cells to those of healthy patients.
“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/protein to the test tube, we observed a process of cardiac rejuvenation: the cardiac cells of elderly heart failure patients have resumed functioning properly, proving to be more efficient in building new blood vessels,” reports study first author and MultiMedica Group researcher Monica Cattaneo.
Gene carriers pass this protection to their children
The study notes that the children of centenarians also carry BPIFB4, meaning they’re likely to enjoy a long and healthy life as well. Researchers say their study is the first to prove that this protection is transferrable to someone who does not carry the longevity gene.
The team adds that there may be other gene mutations which provide the same or even greater protection against aging which scientists haven’t found yet. For now, the team believes this discovery can lead to a new wave of treatments which extend lifespans.
“Our findings confirm the healthy mutant gene can reverse the decline of heart performance in older people. 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,” Prof. Madeddu says.
The findings are published in the journal Cardiovascular Research.