Why is cardiovascular disease the leading cause of death worldwide? According to a professor at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, cardiovascular disease is rising because treatments addressing heart disease’s common causes—hypertension, high blood pressure, leaky valves and more—extend life for a time, but do not address the root cause of the disease.

Speaking to American Technion Society supporters and community members on July 14 at the Belmont Country Club, professor Izhak Kehat discussed how his work is tackling the idea of modifying genes to fix failing hearts.

Kehat’s lab—the Molecular Cardiovascular System Research Lab within the Technion’s Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine—focuses on the molecular mechanisms responsible for the abnormal enlargement of the heart during cardiac failure, with the aim of translating findings into state-of-the-art therapies that could reduce heart disease-related deaths.

Taking attendees behind the scenes, Kehat explained that each of our billions of heart cells comprises 600 motors that expand and contract to help pump blood, yet those motors have a lifespan of roughly just one week. Kehat’s research examines how cells continuously rebuild those motors, and how the body generates replacement parts at precisely the right time and in accordance with the right amount each cell needs.

The process resembles a fast food chain, according to Kehat. It does not make logistical sense for restaurants to produce and distribute burgers and fries on demand across hundreds or thousands of miles; rather, it is more efficient to provide each of a chain’s locations with the necessary ingredients to serve customers in local markets. Whatever is not sold is discarded because fresh produce will arrive for the next day.

These cells function the same way, Kehat analogized. Cells produce vast quantities of parts that enable their motors to run, and whatever is not used gets consumed by the system, after which point the body begins that process anew.

But when the heart cells have to work harder and need to produce new motors, the supply does not match the demand, and malfunction of the motors occur, leading to heart failure.

Why this occurs, at the genetic level, is the subject of Kehat’s research.

The annual global total of 17.3 million cardiovascular disease-related deaths is expected to grow to over 23.6 million by 2030, according to the American Heart Association.

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