Taiwan-U.S. teams find new genetic link in coronary artery disease

04/06/2021 05:47 PM
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CNA photo April 6, 2021
CNA photo April 6, 2021

Taipei, April 6 (CNA) Research by teams in Taiwan and the United States has found that inhibiting a common chemical modification in messenger RNA may help reduce the buildup of fatty deposits in blood vessels and limit the progress of coronary artery disease (CAD).

Taipei Veterans General Hospital (TVGH) held a press conference on Tuesday to announce the findings, which it said were based on five years of research it conducted with teams at National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University and the University of California, San Diego.

Cheng Hao-min (鄭浩民), a cardiologist at the hospital, said coronary artery disease was responsible for 27.5 percent of all deaths in Taiwan in 2019, making it the second-highest cause of death behind cancer at 28.6 percent.

The main risk factors of CAD, Cheng said, include an unhealthy diet, obesity, and aging, which not only facilitate the buildup of fatty deposits (plaques) in major blood vessels that supply the heart, but also cause chronic inflammation that leads to the vessels' hardening.

Eventually, this process reduces the blood flow to the heart, causing health outcomes ranging from chest pains to heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrest, he said.

In recent years, scientists have found an increasing amount of evidence to suggest that the buildup of plaque in the arteries is not only the result of external factors, but also genetic processes, said Chiou Shih-hwa (邱士華), director of the hospital's Department of Medical Research.

According to Chiou, the researchers found that a common type of mRNA methylation (a kind of internal chemical modification in mRNA) may be a main driver in the development of CAD. In their experiments, the researchers used gene therapy to inhibit mRNA methylation in mice, and found that they were able to reduce the inflammation of coronary arteries and decrease plaque buildup by 50 percent, Chiou said.

In the future, he said, this discovery could assist in the development of new medicines, giving doctors a tool to intervene against CAD before it has reached an advanced stage.

According to Cheng, the only options for treating CAD at present are surgical procedures such as cardiac catheterization and bypass surgery, and a class of cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins,

Statins can only slowly dissolve the blockages over a period of many years, however, and cannot completely remove the risk of a heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest, he said, leaving open the need for other treatment options.

The team published its findings in PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, in February.

(By Chang Ming-hsuan and Matthew Mazzetta)

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