Is Gene Therapy The Ultimate Cure For High Cholesterol And Consequentially, Heart Disease?

If you’re past your mid-thirties, or have a family history of high blood pressure, hypertension, or heart disease, chances are, you’ve heard of “bad cholesterol” (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) and/or triglycerides. High levels of LDL and triglycerides in the blood are responsible for the build-up of plaque in the arteries, narrowing the flow of blood, in effect raising blood pressure which leads to hypertension and heart disease.


“Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. High cholesterol leads to hardened arteries that can cause a heart attack or stroke. When guidelines were last revised five years ago, they moved away from just using cholesterol numbers to determine who needs treatment and toward a formula that takes into account age, high blood pressure and other factors to more broadly estimate risk.”—Marilynn Marchionne/AP

Once the plaque builds up in the arterial walls, the only thing you can do is slow down its progress or stop it from further building up. Researchers found that this build-up starts as early as in adolescents as “fatty streaks” in the arteries. In today’s world, unless you were raised in a health-conscious household or around people who are health buffs, you’re probably consuming a lot of toxic food, living a less than healthy lifestyle.

There are only a few things we can do to mitigate high bad cholesterol levels, it’s basically a lifestyle change:

1. Stop smoking.
2. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.

3. Maintain a healthy weight (Body mass index (BMI) between 18 and 24).

4. Regular exercise (minimum of 30-minute cardio, 6x per week) or stay active, and understand the benefits and importance of using medication.

5. Eating healthy — e.g. Mediterranean diet, consuming mostly fruits and vegetables, enough lean meat, poultry and fatty fish, enough soluble fiber and whole wheat, opting for low salt and low sugar foods, and avoid processed food, junk food and greasy food.

6. Minimize stress.

But if you’ve done all the healthy lifestyle change and you’re still having trouble keeping your bad cholesterol at normal levels, there’s one more culprit that you need to take into account… genetics. If your family has a history of hypertension, chances are, the gene responsible for it has been passed down to you… you’re already predisposed.

The go-to solution these days for managing bad cholesterol are statins. And once you start taking it, you’re stuck with it for life.

It doesn’t sound reassuring to be dependent on a drug (and the health care system and the pharmaceutical industry) to live a healthy life. One might wonder,… with all the advances in the human genome project, molecular biology and genetics, in general, why haven’t they come up with a gene therapy to “fix” the genes that’s responsible for producing excessive amounts of LDL (and triglycerides)?

As it turns out, they are doing just that!

“Scientists from UCLA and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute successfully used a gene (LeXis) that suppresses cholesterol levels as part of a treatment to reduce plaque in mice with a disorder called familial hypercholesterolemia. In a preclinical study, researchers found that the gene, LeXis, lowered cholesterol and blockages in the arteries, and the treatment appeared to reduce the build-up of fat in liver cells.”—Science Daily

The paper’s authors are Xiaohui Wu, Zhengyi Zhang and Dr. Tamer Sallam of UCLA; and Dr. Peter Tontonoz, Marius Jones and David Salisbury of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The study was published online in the journal Circulation.

This is such an astounding feat. This is undoubtedly a breakthrough in science so many will be paying attention.

In the mean time, manage what you have control over. Make that lifestyle change and live a healthier life.

Don’t wait for a trip to the emergency room before you make your move.

Sources: Science Daily, Genengnews, Omics Online


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