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Killing zombies could stop age damaging our hearts

Scientists at Newcastle University believe it may be possible to reverse the damage in the heart caused by ageing.

"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." - Dr Gavin Richardson

New research, which has been published today in the journal EMBO, could suggest a new way of preventing heart failure in older patients.

Heart failure occurs when the heart is not pumping blood around the body as well as it should, most commonly when the heart muscle has been damaged – for example, after a heart attack.

 

Risk of heart failure

Ageing is one of the main risk-factors for heart failure, as older people are more likely to develop heart disease and don’t recover as well following a heart attack.

This research, carried out in mice, was led by Dr Gavin Richardson, Dr Jeanne Mialet-Perez and Dr Joao Passos, and funded by the British Heart Foundation.

It explores how senescent cells – also known as zombie cells – form in the heart and lead to heart failure. 

Zombie cells occur all over the body as it ages. They get their nickname from the fact that although they are not dead they do not function correctly and can cause other cells around them to become senescent (or zombiefied)

Elsewhere in the body, zombie cells are usually caused by the shortening of structures called telomeres, which happens progressively each time a cell divides. But the as heart cells – cardiomyocytes – rarely divide it was not known if or how these cells could become senescent.

The Newcastle scientists, in collaboration with researchers in the US and France, have not only discovered how this process takes place in the heart but also how it can be reversed or treated.

 

To read the full article please visit the Newcastle University website.

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