Groundbreaking Israeli research uncovers what protects us from heart disease

Assuta Ashdod-led study finds protective biological factors that prevent the development of atherosclerosis in high-risk individuals.

THE SAMSON Assuta Ashdod University Hospital (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
THE SAMSON Assuta Ashdod University Hospital
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

A groundbreaking new Israeli study has revealed that two biological factors could be the key to preventing high-risk individuals from developing heart disease. 

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Conducted by the Assuta Ashdod Public Hospital in collaboration with the Rabin Medical Center, the research found that endothelial progenitor cells – which help repair the inner lining of a blood vessel following vascular injury – as well as telomere length, may play a critical role in preventing heart disease. The results of the study were recently published in the Coronary Artery Disease medical journal. 

Led by Dr. Einat Shaked and Prof. Eli Lev of Assuta Ashdod’s Cardiology Department, the research set out to uncover why some people never develop heart disease despite having high-risk profiles (diabetes, smoking, excess cholesterol, etc.), while others do.

Researchers found that patients with a high risk for coronary artery disease but with healthy arteries had greater endothelial progenitor cell function than patients with existing heart disease. In addition, they also discovered that these cells had longer telomeres (which indicate a cell’s lifespan) in individuals with normal arteries. Telomere length has previously been shown to be correlated with overall cell health.

The findings indicate that these two factors could serve as a protective mechanism against atherosclerosis, which results from the buildup of fats and cholesterol on the artery walls. 

 Assuta Ashdod's Dr. Einat Shaked, who led the research.  (credit: Courtesy) Assuta Ashdod's Dr. Einat Shaked, who led the research. (credit: Courtesy)

“Until now we focused on what leads to heart disease,” Dr. Shaked told The Media Line. “In this research, we did the opposite for the first time: We looked at what prevents heart disease from developing despite several risk factors being present.”

How was the study conducted?

As part of the study, researchers had about 25 patients with multiple cardiovascular risk factors undergo CT scans of their arteries. They then compared this first group against two controls: One featured patients with similar risk profiles but who already had coronary artery disease, and the other was a group of 20 healthy volunteers.

"We looked at what prevents heart disease from developing despite several risk factors being present.”

Dr. Einat Shaked

“We examined a unique patient population with many risk factors for developing heart diseases, such as smokers, those with diabetes, or those who had chest pains,” Prof. Lev said in a statement that was shared with The Media Line. “Despite these people being at high risk, their arteries were completely clear. We examined several blood factors and compared them to those found in patients that had confirmed diagnoses of heart disease. After comprehensive testing, we discovered two factors that could potentially help prevent atherosclerosis.

“In the future, this research could help us develop new medicines to prevent atherosclerosis,” Lev added.

Shaked echoed those sentiments and noted that the study has provided scientists with insight into protective biological mechanisms and deepened their understanding of atherosclerosis, which is the underlying cause of about 50% of all deaths in westernized society, according to the National Library of Medicine.

“This research will enable us to understand the disease better and develop new treatments,” she said.