Medical scientists at Newcastle University are suggesting it may be possible to reverse age-related damage in the heart, after a journal from EMBO was published on the 8th February.
Part-funded by the British Heart Foundation, the study looks at the impact of senescence “zombie” cells; these are cells that do not function properly, and cause other cells to do the same. It was explored how these form and how they eventually lead to heart failure.
Recent estimates suggest that heart failure potentially affects around 920,000 people in the UK alone. It occurs when the heart fails to pump blood around the body normally, after becoming too weak to do so. Generally heart failure comes after other illnesses have already weakened the heart. Elderly people do not recover as well as younger people following heart attacks, meaning old age is one of the biggest risk-factors of heart failure.
In other parts of the human body, these zombie cells are often caused by the shortening of structures called telomeres – this is something that occurs every time a cell divides. However little knowledge was known in whether heart cells, otherwise known as cardiomyocytes, could become senescence.
One of the leading scientists in the research, Dr Richardson, from the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Newcastle University, has said: “Previously, it was believed that senescence occurs only as a result of a lifetime of cell division and the shortening of telomeres.
“Our data support the very exciting idea that heart cells can become senescent due to stress rather than the process of division. This mechanism could also explain how other non-dividing cells in our bodies age. We saw that removing senescent cardiomyocytes from the hearts of aged mice, both genetically and using drugs, was able to restore cardiac health – essentially removing the damage caused by ageing.”
This life-changing research has proved an enlightening foundation for further tests, where study is currently being undertaken in exploring the effects of removing zombie cells, that form as a result of heart attacks. Dr Richardson continued “this data provides critical support for the potential of using medicines to kill zombie cells. If this is validated through clinical trials it would provide us with a new way of treating cardiac diseases,” explained Dr Richardson.
With funding from the BHF and help from international researchers in France and the USA, the study has proved vital evidence in suggesting how to age with a healthy heart.