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Trailblazing technology can detect acute pressure changes in heart

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Researchers have used cutting-edge imaging technology to measure acute pressure changes inside the heart – work that has also helped them pinpoint why a widely used drug given to help calculate blood flow through the organ causes breathlessness in some patients.

The state-of-the-art technology uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to create detailed pictures of the heart.

Using the new technology, the team from the University of East Anglia in the UK discovered that pressure inside the heart goes up when a specific medication called adenosine is given for testing blood flow.

They also found out why adenosine – which is a naturally occurring substance that relaxes and dilates the blood vessels and is used to help restore normal heartbeats in people with certain rhythm disorders – makes patients breathless during the test.

The team – whose work has been published in the journal BMC Cardiovascular Disorders – say their findings could help doctors better diagnose and monitor patients with heart disease and heart failure.

Lead researcher Dr Pankaj Garg, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “When patients present with symptoms of heart disease, doctors use a special test called heart MRI to take detailed pictures of the heart and see how well it is working.

“Sometimes, patients are given a special medication called adenosine during the heart MRI test to see how blood flows through the heart, and it can cause breathlessness.

“We wanted to better understand the way that the heart functions, and why patients become breathless when given adenosine.”

The UEA team worked with researchers at the University of Leeds and studied 33 patients referred for a stress cardiac MRI.

This test is performed to help evaluate the blood flow in the heart arteries, looking for blockages.

The research team took pictures of the patient’s heart when it was resting and when it was working hard after being given adenosine.

Dr Garg explained: “Adenosine mimics the effect of exercise on the heart while the patient is lying down on the scanner. And we discovered why it makes patients get out of breath.

Postgraduate researcher Hosamadin Assadi, also from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, added: “We looked at the top chamber of the heart, called the left atrium, and also looked at the lower part of the heart, called the left ventricle.

“We used advanced software to measure and study the heart, and we also estimated the pressures inside the heart before and after giving the medication.

“Our study shows that after giving patients adenosine, the heart’s left atrium got bigger really fast – just before the blood flowed out.

“This is important as it shows that the previously published heart MRI pressure model is adaptable to acute changes in the heart and can be more broadly used to diagnose and monitor heart disease – in particular heart failure.

“We also found that a measure called LVFP, which tells us about the pressure inside the heart, went up when the heart was working hard.”

Dr Garg’s previous work showed that a 4D heart MRI scan can create detailed flow images of the heart, and how this non-invasive imaging technique can measure the peak velocity of blood flow in the heart accurately and precisely.

The scan takes just six to eight minutes and can provide precise imaging of the heart valves and the flow inside the heart in three-dimensions, helping doctors determine the best course of treatment for patients.

“This work strengthens the notion of using heart MRI to measure pressures inside the heart,” Dr Garg said.

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Tai chi outperforms conventional exercise for seniors

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New findings from 12 studies involving 2,901 participants have demonstrated that tai chi outperforms conventional exercise in improving mobility and balance in seniors.

While tai chi is understood to be beneficial for functional mobility and balance in older adults, such benefits are not well understood due to large variance in research study protocols and observations.

This new review and analysis has now shown that tai chi can induce greater improvement in functional mobility and balance in relatively healthy older adults compared to conventional exercise.

The findings showed the following performance results:

  • The time to complete 50-foot walking was 1.84 seconds faster. 
  • The time to maintain a one-leg stance was 6 seconds longer when eyes were open and 1.65 seconds longer when eyes were closed. 
  • Individuals improved their timed-up-and-go test performance by 0.18 points, indicating quicker standing, walking, and sitting.
  • Individuals taking the functional reach test showed significant improvement with a standardised mean difference of 0.7, suggesting a noteworthy positive impact on the ability to reach and perform daily activities.

Secondary analyses revealed that the use of tai chi with relatively short duration of less than 20 weeks, low total time of less than 24 total hours, and/or focusing on the Yang-style of this ancient form of Chinese martial arts were particularly beneficial for functional mobility and balance as compared to conventional exercise.

“This systematic literature review and meta-analysis are exciting because they provide strong evidence that tai chi is a more efficient strategy to improve functional mobility and balance in relatively healthy older adults, as compared to conventional exercise,” said Brad Manor, Ph.D., director of the Mobility and Falls Program at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, and associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

“This research suggests that tai chi should be carefully considered in future studies and routines of rehabilitative programs for balance and mobility in older adults,” said Bao Dapeng, professor at Beijing Sport University.

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New standards for biomarkers of ageing

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A paper has put forward a new framework for standardising the development and validation of biomarkers of ageing to better predict longevity and quality of life.

Led by Harvard researchers, the team has zeroed in on biomarkers of ageing using omic data from population-based studies. 

The team included ageing and longevity expert Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD, founder and CEO of AI-driven drug discovery company Insilico Medicine, and the findings appeared in Nature Medicine

Ageing is associated with a number of biological changes including increased molecular and cellular damage, however, researchers do not yet have a standardised means to evaluate and validate biomarkers related to ageing. 

In order to create those standards as well as actionable clinical tools, the team analysed population-based cohort studies built on omic data (data related to biological molecules which can include proteomics, transcriptomics, genomics, and epigenomics) of blood-based biomarkers of ageing. The researchers then compared the predictive strength of different biomarkers, including study design and data collection approaches, and looked at how these biomarkers presented in different populations. 

In order to better assess the impact of ageing using biomarkers, the researchers found that clinicians needed to expand their focus to consider not only mortality as an outcome, but also how biomarkers of aging are associated with numerous other health outcomes, including functional decline, frailty, chronic disease, and disability. They also call for the standardisation of omic data to improve reliability. 

“Omics and biomarkers harmonisation efforts, such as the Biolearn project, are instrumental in validation of biomarkers of aging” said co-first author Mahdi Moqri, PhD, of the Division of Genetics. 

Biolearn is an open-source project for biomarkers of aging and is helping to harmonise existing ageing biomarkers, unify public datasets, and provide computational methodologies.

The team also emphasised the importance of continued collaborations among research groups on “large-scale, longitudinal studies that can track long-term physiological changes and responses to therapeutics in diverse populations”, and that further work is required to understand how implementation of biomarker evaluation in clinical trials might improve patient quality of life and survival.

“If we hope to have clinical trials for interventions that extend healthy lifespan in humans, we need reliable, validated biomarkers of ageing,” said co-first author Jesse Poganik, PhD, of the Division of Genetics. 

“We hope that our framework will help prioritise the most promising biomarkers and provide health care providers with clinically valuable and actionable tools.”

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Healthy aging research to receive $115 million

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Global non-profit Hevolution Foundation has announced $115 million in funding that makes up 49 new awards under its Geroscience Research Opportunities (HF-GRO) programme.  

As part of Hevolution’s mission to catalyse the healthspan scientific ecosystem and drive transformative breakthroughs in healthy aging, HF-GRO is funding promising pre-clinical research in aging biology and geroscience. 

Through this first wave of HF-GRO awards, Hevolution will invest up to $115 million in this first cohort of 49 selected projects over the next five years. Its second call for proposals under HF-GRO will be announced later this year, offering an additional $115 million to address the significant funding gaps in aging research.  

Dr. Felipe Sierra, Hevolution’s Chief Scientific Officer stated: “These 49 important research projects represent a significant step forward in deepening our understanding of healthy aging. Hevolution’s prime objective is to mobilise greater investment around uncovering the foundational mechanisms behind biological aging. 

“We are steadfast in our belief that by examining the root causes of aging, rather than solely focusing on its associated diseases, we can usher in a brighter future for humanity.” 

HF-GRO awardees include researchers at prestigious institutions across the United States, Canada, and Europe, including the U.S. National Institute on Aging, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Buck Institute, the Mayo Clinic, New York University, and the University of California San Francisco, among many others. 

The American Federation for Aging Research is providing programmatic support for the HF-GRO program, with grantees selected through a rigorous two-stage peer-review process involving 100 experts in aging biology and geroscience. 

Dr Berenice Benayoun, an HF-GRO grant recipient at the University of Southern California, stated: “I am extremely honored and excited that Hevolution selected our project for funding. This is a project close to my heart, which aims at understanding why and how the female and male innate immune aging differs. 

“This funding will support us as we start laying the foundation for a lasting improvement of women’s health throughout aging.” 

To date, Hevolution has committed approximately $250 million to transform the healthy aging sector, including the $40 million for specialised research and development in healthspan science recently announced at Hevolution’s Global Healthspan Summit. 

Hevolution is ramping up its investments to enable healthier aging for all and is now the second largest funder of aging biology research worldwide.  

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