Single Genetic Factor May Affect Aging Changes in Heart; UAMS Researcher to Study with $1.44 Million Grant

By todd

LITTLE ROCK — A study by University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) researcher Jeanne Wei, M.D. Ph.D., hopes to show that alterations in a single genetic factor may underlie the aging changes commonly observed in the heart.


Wei, executive vice chairman of the UAMS Department of Geriatrics, was awarded a five-year $1.44 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the effects of aging on the heart.


“An older person’s heart usually cannot withstand stress as well as a younger person’s heart can,” Wei said. “We are studying what happens to the heart muscle that makes it more vulnerable to stress as we age.” Wei also is a professor in the UAMS College of Medicine, treats patients at the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and is a staff physician at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.


For example, patients with coronary heart disease who are older than 65 can have a mortality rate five times higher than patients with similar disease who are younger than 65, Wei said. This remains true even in patients with other similar health conditions who experience acute blockage for the same amount of time and have their blood flow promptly reestablished equally in the similarly blocked coronary arteries.


Her study will attempt to determine whether one or more key proteins in the heart can determine the muscle’s ability to withstand stress. If this hypothesis is found to be true, it may be possible to manipulate the protein in an older person’s heart to resemble that found in a younger person’s heart, improving a patient’s chance of successful recovery from injury and also preserving the heart’s function, she said.


UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has about 2,320 students and 690 medical residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 9,300 employees, including nearly 1,000 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $4.5 billion a year. For more information, visit