This work is characteristic of much of modern medical development in that it does nothing to address underlying root causes of an age-related condition, but rather finds a way to partially patch over this one end result at a fairly late point in the chain of consequences.
[Researchers] have developed a potential treatment for atherosclerosis that targets a master controller of the process. In a twist, the master controller comes from a source that scientists had thought was leftover garbage. It is a micro RNA molecule, which comes from an unused template that remains after punching out ribosomes - workhorse protein factories found in all cells.
The treatment works by stopping the inflammatory effects of disturbed blood flow on cells that line blood vessels. In animal models of atherosclerosis, a drug that blocks the micro RNA can stop arteries from becoming blocked, despite the ongoing stress of high-fat diet. The micro RNA appears to function similarly in human cells. "We've known that aerobic exercise provides protection against atherosclerosis, partly by improving patterns of blood flow. Now we're achieving some insight into how. Healthy flow tunes down the production of bad actors like this micro RNA. Targeting it could form the basis for a therapeutic approach that could be translated with relative ease compared to other drugs."
Micro RNAs were recently discovered to be able to travel from cell to cell, and thus could orchestrate processes such as atherosclerosis. Out of all the micro RNAs the researchers examined, one in particular, called miR-712, was the micro RNA most strongly induced by disturbed blood flow in the atherosclerosis model system. In response to disturbed or unhealthy blood flow, endothelial cells produce miR-712, the researchers found. miR-712 in turn inhibits a gene called TIMP3, which under healthy flow conditions restrains inflammation in endothelial cells.