MURRAY — Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. taking the lives of some 600,000 people each year, according to the CDC. New research from Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute could shed some light on how long people with the disease are likely to live.
Medical scientists focused on the length of a cell's telomeres — a sort of end cap for the chromosomes inside your body's cells — and how it relates to longevity.
Heart disease sufferers with longer telomeres were likely to live longer, according to the research presented Saturday at the American College of Cardiology's Annual Scientific Session.
Telomeres are long repeating sequences of DNA that serve an important function in the body. Each time a cell divides, it replicates your chromosomes. But each time that happens, a chromosome grows ever so slightly shorter.
Telomeres allow chromosomes to grow shorter during cell division without losing important genetic information.
Because of the shortening of these chromosomal endcaps, telomeres have long been an important area of research into the effects of aging. As telomeres grow shorter and shorter, age-related diseases and processes begin to kick in. Some reseach has shown a strong association between longer telomeres and reduced effects of aging.
IMCHI's research expanded on that idea.
"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," said Dr. John Carlquist, director if the Institute's genetics laboratory. "Longer telomere length directly correlate with the likelihood for a longer life — even for patients with heart disease."
The institute looked at the telomeres of about 3,500 people with heart disease, and found they could predict survival rates based on their length.
Telomere length could also predict who is likely to get the common cold, according to a February study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. People whose immune cells had shorter telomeres were more likely to get a cold.
Also, A 2012 study from the University of East Anglia claimed to have shown that telomere length predicted the life expectancy of wild species like the Seychelles Warbler.