News of Note—Gene therapy to protect the heart; boosting chemo with cardio drugs; reversing memory loss

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Mice given gene therapy and a high-fat diet experienced a reduction in cholesterol.

Could junk DNA protect our hearts?

Scientists at the University of California at Los Angeles and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute reported that they successfully used gene therapy to lower cholesterol in mouse models of familial hypercholesterolemia. The gene they used, called LeXis, was once considered “junk DNA” because it seemed to serve no purpose. But when the researchers gave the mice LeXis and then fed them a high-cholesterol diet for 15 weeks (think cheeseburgers and fries), their cholesterol went down, artery blockages opened up and less fat appeared to build up in their livers. The research was published in the journal Circulation. Release

Chemo-boosting drugs for aggressive leukemia

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute have discovered that acute myeloid leukemia (AML) causes bone marrow to leak blood, which in turn impedes the proper delivery of chemotherapy. So they tried mixing chemo with experimental drugs designed to treat heart and blood vessel disorders, and the results were promising. In mouse models of AML and in human tissue samples, the heart drugs stopped the leaks and the chemo became more effective, the researchers reported in the journal Cancer Cell. They believe the findings may point to a potential new combination of treatments for AML. Release

Reversing age-related memory loss

Researchers at Columbia University have completed mouse studies suggesting that a hormone produced by bone cells, osteocalcin, may be useful in reversing memory loss that occurs as part of aging. They gave aged mice continuous infusions of the hormone for two months and observed improvements on two different memory tests. Similar results were seen when the mice were given plasma from young mice, which have naturally high levels of osteocalcin. They plan to do more research to determine whether their findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, can be translated to drug therapies for people. Release