Predicting Risk Of Heart Attacks With Chromosome Length
March 26, 2012

Predicting Risk Of Heart Attacks With Chromosome Length

Scientists in Boston, Massachusetts have discovered a chromosomal link to heart cancer by studying the length of proteins in a chromosome. The key factor at play in this research are telemores, or DNA protein complexes. These protein complexes can be thought of as “caps”, protecting chromosomes from deteriorating and melding with other chromosomes.

As time goes on and chromosomes continue to replicate and cells divide, these telemores will naturally shorten. How much these telemores shorten could suggest a link to heart risk and poor cardiovascular outcomes in patients with acute coronary syndrome, according to new research from Brigham and Women´s Hospital (BWH).

This study was presented at the American College of Cardiology 2012 Annual Scientific Session in Chicago.

The scientists followed more than 5,000 patients with acute coronary syndrome for 18 months, measuring their telemores as the studies progressed.

The scientists specifically looked for risk of cardiovascular death or risk of heart attack based on the length of the telemores, as well as other characteristics. The researchers found shorter telemores were associated with older age, men, smoking and prior heart attack and heart failure. Not each of these characteristics were completely conclusive, however. For example, the link between shorter telemores and old age accounted for only 7% of the variability of telemores length.

Where these tests were conclusive were the association between telemores length and cardiovascular death or heart attack. Those with shorter telemores had a highest risk, with the relationship remaining consistent across age groups.

“We know that many different genetic and environmental factors, like diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking predispose patients to suffering cardiovascular events,” said Christian T. Ruff, MD, MPH, Cardiovascular Division, BWH Department of Medicine, and lead study investigator. “Even when accounting for all of these other known risk factors, patients with short telomeres have an increased risk of having a heart attack or dying from heart disease.”

Ruff hopes measuring telemores length in a clinical setting may aid in predicting cardiovascular events.

As their research has proven to be quite conclusive, the team is convinced they will be able to detect heart risks early enough to protect many patients.

“Telomere shortening may represent some sort of ℠biological clock´ which integrates the cumulative effect of environmental and genetic stresses on the body, both of which can contribute to cardiovascular events.” Ruff said in a press release announcing the details of their research.

As their research moves forward, the scientists continue to find a viable relationship between telemores length and cardiovascular risks. In the future, the team plans to study the rate of telemores shortening. With this research, the scientists at BWH hope to determine the relationship between rapid telemores shortening and adverse cardiovascular events.

“In the future, we hope to identify clinical, biochemical and genetic characteristics that predict telomere shortening,” said Ruff. “We hope to have the ability to determine if therapies and medications that impact these processes may delay telomere attrition and lessen the risk of cardiovascular events in these patients.”