Our elderly years may well be spent in a fashion similar to the early months of our infancy, being spoon-fed and babbling incoherently. But perhaps the years we have before we hit that stage could be spent as we did in our teens and early 20s — after all, seniors are experiencing increasingly high rates of sexually transmitted disease. More than that, though, researchers have recently discovered that the same medications used to treat acne in our youth could potentially treat cardiovascular disease later in life.
All-trans retinoic acid, better known as Retin-A or tretinoin, is a form of Vitamin A regularly prescribed to treat acne, discoloration and other skin conditions. Applied to the skin, it aids in rapid cell turnover. I’m even prescribed a topical form of tretinoin, myself! Oral forms of all-trans retinoic acid are also used to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia, a form of cancer that causes an overabundance of immature blood-forming cells in the blood. But as researchers from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and Stanford University found in a study published this month, it might also work as a treatment for the leading cause of heart failure.
Dilated cardiomyopathy affects around 1 in 250 people, regularly leading to heart failure as the result of an increase in size of the left ventricle of the heart, which impedes blood flow. It’s the most common reason for heart transplants, which themselves have a rather abysmal success rate — only 50 percent of transplant patients live 10 years following the surgery.
What the researchers found is that dilated cardiomyopathy is linked to a mutation in the gene coding for a specific protein. Though this may not be the sole cause of the problem, it’s likely responsible for severe, inherited cases. Further, all-trans retinoic acid was identified as a fix for the protein mutation, preventing the ventricle from enlarging at a cellular level.
That’s all they really know about it so far — more research is still needed to figure out the specifics of whether this treatment could be broadly applied and how. But it’s just further evidence for those already devoted to tretinoin for our skin that it’s basically a miracle.
Really, though, if this actually works for dilated cardiomyopathy, it’s a big development in preventing heart transplants and heart failure.