Protein rejuvenates hearts in mice
Diastolic heart failure becomes more likely as a person ages and the heart muscle thickens. Researchers from Harvard University, however, may have discovered the first effective treatment for this condition, which affects millions of Americans each year. They have identified a protein that can rejuvenate a heart in mice, reducing its size and thickness to the point that it more closely resembles the hearts of younger mice.
The researchers began with two questions: is the thickening of the heart an inevitable consequence of aging and is it reversible? They eventually isolated the protein GDF-11 as being present in high levels in young animals and in lower quantities in older animals. They found that supplementing older mice with the protein – to the point that it was comparable to younger mice – yielded dramatic effects on the heart.
The researchers hope that this information can translate to humans as well. Currently, the standard treatment for diastolic heart failure is rest and the drawing of fluids, though no structural changes can be made. The hope is that, instead, GDF-11 could be used to actually treat the underlying condition that led to the heart failure.