Saturday, December 13, 2008

What Kind of Gene Could Prevent Heart Disease?

Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure, is a condition in which the heart cannot supply adequate blood flow to the rest of the body's organs. Such condition is caused by significant or prolonged stress to the heart. It could simply occur following a heart attack, high blood pressure, certain infections, and because of genetic causes.

Statistics show that heart failure affects some 23 million people worldwide and kills about 600,000 every year.

Recently, a tiny piece of genetic material that plays a key role in heart failure has been identified by an international research team who also shows how an experimental compound prevents the condition in mice.

Using a treatment from Regulus Therapeutics, the scientists were able to block or silence the tiny strands of ribonucleic acid called microRNA. Regulus Therapeutics is a joint venture between US biotech companies Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc and Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc.

These genetic fragments are responsible for regulating the making of genes into proteins, and in this case, it was discovered that a failing heart had 3- to 5-times more of a particular microRNA called miR-21. The findings of the new study were reported on November 30, 2008 in the journal Nature.

To begin with, the researchers analyzed hundreds of microRNAs within human and mouse heart samples to identify miR-21 as a key cause of heart failure. Then, they gave some mice an experimental compound known as antagomir to block miR-21. In these mice, the heart failure was prevented while mice that did not get the drug developed heart failure. As compared with the mice that did not receive the treatment, mice with heart failure that later got the compound did improve.

In other words, cardiac disease could be prevented as well as cured because the results from the study showed that heart function and tissue damage improved in both cases.

This new study was viewed as a landmark event in the advancement of microRNA therapeutics as a new class of innovative medicines. Several big drug makers have already invested into RNA technology to search for promising biotech assets.

Earlier in November 2008, a United States team had also shown how a different bit of RNA known as microRNA-101 meant the difference between an easily treated tumors and an aggressive cancer.

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