An Italian study of centenarian superagers—people 100 years old or more who remain unusually healthy—found that a large proportion of them share a mutant gene that seems to keep hearts healthy as we age.

Among those who share the mutation, many had no greater degree of heart disease than typical people in middle age.

The researchers inserted the mutant gene into aged mice, whose hearts then grew stronger and pumped more blood, an improvement that, in humans, “would correspond to rewinding the heart’s biological clock by more than 10 years,” the scientists wrote in a paper.

Since then, the team has had similar results trying the treatment on elderly animals and old human heart cells in a lab dish. In every case, the genetic tweak perks up cardiac cells weakened by the onset of time.

The mutation seems to make new blood vessels, bringing more nourishment to the heart so it can repair itself and last longer, according to the scientists.

In a parallel study adding weight to their research, the Italians found that in older humans with heart trouble, the unmutated gene is poorly expressed.

TRENDPOST: Gene therapy—inserting the tweaked gene into humans with heart ailments—could revolutionize the treatment of cardiac disease.

However, the Italian researchers are now testing the therapeutic impact of the protein the mutated gene produces. Dosing people with the protein instead of putting them through the riskier, more complex process of gene therapy would be easier and cheaper—if it works.

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