Research teams in Taiwan and the US have found that inhibiting a common chemical modification in messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) might help reduce the buildup of fatty deposits in blood vessels and curb coronary artery disease.
Taipei Veterans General Hospital announced the findings at a news conference yesterday, saying that the results were based on five years of research that 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 that 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 coronary artery disease are an unhealthy diet, obesity and aging, which not only facilitate the buildup of fatty deposits (plaque) in major blood vessels that supply the heart, but also cause chronic inflammation that leads to hardening of the vessels, Cheng said.
Eventually, this reduces blood flow to the heart, causing anything from chest pain to heart attacks or sudden cardiac arrest, he said.
Over the past few years, scientists have found more evidence suggesting that the buildup of plaque in the arteries is not only caused by external factors, but also genetics, said Chiou Shih-hwa (邱士華), director of the hospital’s Department of Medical Research.
The researchers found that a common type of mRNA methylation — a kind of internal chemical modification in mRNA — might be a main driver in the development of coronary artery disease, Chiou said.
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.
This discovery could assist in the development of new medicines, giving doctors a tool to prevent coronary artery disease before it becomes advanced, he said.
Current treatment options for coronary artery disease involve surgery, such as cardiac catheterization and bypass surgery, and a class of cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins, Cheng said.
However, statins can only slowly dissolve the blockages over a period of many years, and cannot completely remove the risk of a heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest, leaving the need for other treatments, he said.
The teams’ findings were published in February in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
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