Advanced age is a primary risk factor for heart failure, and heart disease is the leading cause of death globally. A new study may have found a new way to treat heart failure and extend the lives of as many as 8 million Americans over the next ten years.
The answer may be in a protein called vinculin. It appears that this protein may improve muscle function and the ability of the heart to contract. The study was federally funded and performed by scientists from Johns Hopkins, UC San Diego, San Diego State, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the National Institute on Aging and the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, California. It was performed primarily of fruit flies for two main reasons: more than 80% of the protein groups (including vinculin) found in flies are similar to those found in mammals like rats and monkeys (and humans), and they have an average lifespan of just a few weeks, so they are ideal for aging studies.
The flies that had increased levels of vinculin targeted at the heart survived about 150% longer than those that didn’t. Only half of the control group made 4 weeks; none made it longer than 8 weeks. For the flies that had higher levels of vinculin in the heart, half made it to 11 weeks and some survived to 13 weeks.
“The heart is an amazingly resilient organ but one that generally doesn’t regenerate, and its ability to pump invariably declines with age. Our findings reveal that vinculin fuels beneficial structural and physiologic changes in aging heart cells, and it can be an important therapeutic target to slow down the heart muscle’s inevitable demise,” stated Anthony Cammarato, PhD., a co-principal investigator on the study and an assistant professor of medicine and physiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
While further research is needed to verify these findings and to see if they correlate to humans, this is a new direction in the study of heart failure, and one that has some promise in possibly being able to better treat the condition.
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