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UAMS to study genetics' influence on aging heart

Researcher gets $1.44 Million Grant

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Press Release

UAMS Medical Center

Single Genetic Factor May Affect Aging Changes in Heart;
UAMS Researcher to Study with $1.44 Million Grant

LITTLE ROCK — A study by University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) researcher Jeanne Wei, M.D. Ph.D., hopes to show that alterations in a single genetic factor may underlie the aging changes commonly observed in the heart.

Wei, executive vice chairman of the UAMS Department of Geriatrics, was awarded a five-year $1.44 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the effects of aging on the heart.

“An older person’s heart usually cannot withstand stress as well as a younger person’s heart can,” Wei said. “We are studying what happens to the heart muscle that makes it more vulnerable to stress as we age.” Wei also is a professor in the UAMS College of Medicine, treats patients at the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and is a staff physician at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.

For example, patients with coronary heart disease who are older than 65 can have a mortality rate five times higher than patients with similar disease who are younger than 65, Wei said. This remains true even in patients with other similar health conditions who experience acute blockage for the same amount of time and have their blood flow promptly reestablished equally in the similarly blocked coronary arteries.

Her study will attempt to determine whether one or more key proteins in the heart can determine the muscle’s ability to withstand stress. If this hypothesis is found to be true, it may be possible to manipulate the protein in an older person’s heart to resemble that found in a younger person’s heart, improving a patient’s chance of successful recovery from injury and also preserving the heart’s function, she said.

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