Scientists Suggest This Could Be The Key To Preventing Heart Attacks

The future of humanity without heart attack deaths could come courtesy of a one-time gene-editing treatment — or, at least, that's what a company called Verve Therapeutics is dreaming about. The brainchild of famed cardiologist Sekar Kathiresan, Verve aims to use controversial gene-editing techniques such as CRISPR to selectively alter the segment of the human genome that is responsible for conditions leading to heart attacks.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), more commonly known as "bad" cholesterol, is one of the key reasons behind atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD). However, studies have revealed that there are some genes that can be turned off to lower the risk of heart attacks with a single course of treatment. Or, as Kathiresan puts it, it would be a "one-and-done treatment" for a problem that kills millions globally. Verve's single-course system targets the liver, where the gene-editing material is delivered and the problematic gene is turned off.

Alongside LDL, triglyceride-rich lipoprotein (TRL) or lipoprotein(a) (Lp(a)) represents the three pathways associated with the risk of heart attack, but the gene-editing treatment being proposed by Verve will target each one to seal the risk scenario for good. The company is currently targeting two independent cholesterol pathways — PCSK9 and ANGPTL3 — for gene editing. Verve clearly notes that it will only perform gene treatment on an adult and won't edit the genome sequence on an egg/sperm cell or an embryo to avoid any ethical dilemmas.

Promising, but still far away

Since heart attacks are caused by the buildup of cholesterol in blood vessels, Verve's proposed gene-editing treatment aims to stop the accumulation by changing the metabolic behavior at a genetic level. The company aims to begin trials of its gene-editing experiment with adults that have already experienced heart attacks due to hereditary conditions that triggered high cholesterol accumulation, reports Bloomberg. However, the ultimate goal is to eventually bring younger subjects into the fold, allowing it to act as a preventive measure for heart-related issues.

Verve has reportedly run experiments with its novel gene-editing methods on monkeys and got positive results, reducing bad cholesterol levels by a margin of 59% after administering the treatment. The company now aims to begin testing its genome-level treatment for heart attack prevention on human subjects within the next few months. However, it could take years before enough data is documented to begin proper clinical trials and get the treatment certified for widespread use.

On top of that, there is another huge constraint. Analysts estimate that Verve's DNA altering treatment could cost anywhere between $50,000 and $200,000, which is way beyond the reach of a huge majority of people. For the pioneer behind the treatment though, it is "the answer to heart attack," assuming it actually works. For now, it seems like a far-fetched goal, but there is definitely potential to make groundbreaking advancements in finding a permanent solution to humanity's cardiovascular woes in one go.