The American College of Cardiology's Annual Scientific Session held in San Francisco March 9-11, 2013 was the site of a presentation of the finding of John Carlquist, PhD of Intermountain Medical Center of a correlation between longer telomeres and increased survival in people with heart disease. Telomeres are bits of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes and protect them from damage.
"Chromosomes by their nature get shorter as we get older," explained Dr Carlquist, who is the director of the Intermountain Heart Institute Genetics Lab. "Once they become too short, they no longer function properly, signaling the end of life for the cell. And when cells reach this stage, the patient's risk for age-associated diseases increases dramatically."
The study utilized DNA obtained from over 3,500 individuals diagnosed with myocardial infarction or stroke, whose samples were part of an archive of close to 30,000 cardiac patients. The subjects were followed for up to 20 years, during which any deaths were recorded. "With so many samples and very complete electronic records, it's a unique resource," Dr Carlquist remarked.
"Our research shows that if we statistically adjust for age, patients with longer telomeres live longer, suggesting that telomere length is more than just a measure of age, but may also indicate the probability for survival," he reported. "Longer telomere length directly correlates with the likelihood for a longer life—even for patients with heart disease."
"I believe telomere length could be used in the future as a way to measure the effectiveness of heart care treatment," he predicted. "We can already test cholesterol and blood pressure of a patient to see how treatment is working, but this could give us a deeper view into how the treatment is affecting the body and whether or not the treatment is working."
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