Drinkers who are more resilient to alcohol intoxication can thank the enzyme encoded in a gene called ALDH2. And the same enzyme also limits the damage done by heart attacks and allows victims to recover faster. By studying heart muscle fibres (shown in green) produced in the laboratory from stem cells taken from donated skin samples, biologists discovered that the gene protects heart tissue during oxygen deprivation. When the supply of blood is cut off to a part of the heart, healthy muscle cell nuclei (shown in blue) begin to die (red). But almost eight people out of every one hundred, predominantly of east Asian origin, carry a dysfunctional version of the gene that leaves them unprotected and more prone to heart disease. Biochemists now want to compare how cardiac patients from different ethnic groups respond to different drugs in order to tailor their treatment to their needs.
Written by Tristan Farrow
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