Longevity gene rejuvenates blood vessels

Ground-breaking study published in European Heart Journal

(ANSA) - Rome, July 10 - A longevity gene isolated in the DNA of centenarians has been shown to rejuvenate blood vessels, an Italian team said in a study published in the European Heart Journal.
    The study paves the way for new therapies against cardiovascular diseases, said the team from the University of Salerno, Irccs MultiMedica and Irccs Neuromed, led by Annibale Puca and Carmine Vecchione. "Our objective is to transfer the genetic advantages of the long-lived to the general population and we are working on other fronts too, from tumours to neuro-degenerative diseases," Puca told ANSA.
    The study, sponsored by the Cariplo Foundation and the Italian health ministry, began after previous results achieved by the same group in identifying the LAV-BPIFB4 (longevity associated variant) gene in people over a hundred years old. This gene, Luca said, "leads to greater production of the BPIFB4 protein, which when it is found in high levels in the blood has a protective function for blood vessels". The researchers have now transferred the gene into the DNA of mice susceptible to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease, thanks to gene therapy using a virus rendered harmless and used as 'cargo' to take the gene into the cella targeted. The insertion of the 'longevity gene' into animals led to a rejuvenation of blood cells and the cardiovascular system. The same effect was seen in test tube trials in which the genes were not inserted into cells, with the protein administered directly into human blood vessels. To these experimental data, researchers added another study conducted on a group of patients. It was found that a higher level of the BPIFB4 protein in blood led to better health of blood vessels. Moreover, the carriers of the gene variant had higher protein levels. "The results," Luca said, "are extremely encouraging. We saw better functioning of the internal surfaces of blood vessels, a reduction of atherosclerotic plaque and reduced inflammation." The research paves the way for the possibility of human therapy and is based directly on the protein.
    "Of course a great deal more research will be needed, but we think it is possible, by administering the protein itself to patients, to slow down age-related cardiovascular damage," Vecchione said, who chairs the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Salerno and works at the Ruggi D'Aragona hospital in the same city as well as Neuromed in Pozzilli. "In other words," he said, even if someone does not have a specific genetic makeup that endows them with longevity, we will be able to offer them the same level of protection."