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Sunday, 12 August, 2001, 00:09 GMT 01:09 UK
Ageing cells 'cause hardened arteries'
The scientists looked at cell ageing
The scientists looked at cell ageing
Premature ageing of cells could be linked to hardened arteries and heart disease, scientists have found.

All cells have a life span, but people with atherosclerosis - where arteries are blocked by fatty deposits - have cells which appear like those of people around nine years older, which means the cells are nearer to the end of their life span.

Atherosclerosis is a key stage in changes which can lead to potentially-fatal heart disease.


People with heart disease are older biologically than their age suggests

Professor Nilesh Samani
The researchers, from Leicester University, say their finding is an early observation, but could lead to better understanding of why people develop coronary artery disease (CAD).

Ageing of cells

The scientists, led by Professor Nilesh Samani, looked at the DNA of white blood cells removed from the site of the problem in the artery.

They examined the cells of 10 patients with severe coronary artery disease (CAD), and 20 without.

They looked at the cells' "biological clock" - telomeres, which are regions at the end of chromosomes, and which shorten as the cells get older. As this happens, cells function less well.

Compared to healthy people, the telomeres in the cells of CAD patients were much shorter, meaning they looked like those of people almost nine years older.

The reason for this is not yet certain.

It could be that heart disease risk factors such as smoking and diabetes have an effect.

People could also be born with short telomeres, meaning their cells age more quickly - or be born small and have to catch up, speeding up the ticking of this biological clock.

Heart disease does have a genetic component, and it has been suggested if people have to grow quickly during the neonatal period, they may be more prone to heart disease in middle age.

Malfunction

Prof Samani, whose research was funded by the British Heart Foundation, told BBC News Online: "People with heart disease are older biologically than their age suggests.

"It's a hypothesis that premature malfunction of cells in the arteries of the heart leads to developing atherosclerosis."

But the professor said the team's finding could link the three theories of risk factors, genetic cause and low birthweight leading to growth spurts neonatally as cause of heart disease.

It could also lead to work on how to prevent the telomeres shortening, leading to treatment of atherosclerosis - though that would be some way off.

Prof Samani and his team are now expanding their research to more patients to see if their initial findings are repeated.

The research is published in The Lancet.

See also:

17 Apr 01 | Health
Heart disease cause pinpointed
18 Oct 00 | Health
Heart disease clue uncovered
29 Aug 00 | Health
Heart test could save lives
23 Jun 00 | G-I
Hardened arteries
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