Let’s face it. If we could do anything we liked without any consequence, we would. We’d jump at the chance to eat all our favorite foods without gaining a pound—it would be a dream come true. To look like an athlete without putting in the work would be great.
Making your heart think you exercise
One of these wishes may soon be a reality, at least to some degree. Researchers have discovered a protein that can trick the heart into thinking you exercise. The protein made the heart grow in a healthy way and pump more blood. It also happens to simulate how the heart behaves in pregnant women.
It is important to note that there are several kinds of heart enlargement—some are good, some are bad. The heart growth found in this study was the good kind.
A research team from the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, the Ottawa Hospital, and Carleton University discovered a protein called cardiotrophin 1 (CT1), which was seen to promote heart function. CT1 also repaired heart damage and improved blood flow in animal models with heart failure.
Heart failure is defined as the heart muscles being too weak to be able to pump blood throughout the body. It is projected that by the year 2030, more than eight million people in the U.S. will suffer from this condition.
“When part of the heart dies, the remaining muscles try to adapt by getting bigger, but this happens in a dysfunctional way and it doesn’t actually help the heart pump more blood. We found that CT1 causes heart muscles to grow in a more healthy way and it also stimulates blood vessel growth in the heart. This actually increases the heart’s ability to pump blood, just like what you would see with exercise and pregnancy,” said Dr. Lynn Megeney, senior author of the study and a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa.
Discovered benefits of the protein
Studies were primarily carried out in rodent models as well as cells grown in the lab. The following results were attributed of cardiotrophin 1 (CT1):
- Heart cells became longer and healthier
- Blood vessels grew alongside the new heart muscle tissue, thereby increasing the heart’s ability to pump blood.
- When CT-1 treatment stopped, the heart reverted back to its original condition
- CT-1 was seen to dramatically improve heart function in two animal models with heart failure.
“Currently, the only treatment for right heart failure is a transplant. And although we have drugs that can reduce the symptoms of left heart failure, we can’t fix the problem, and left heart failure often leads to right heart failure over time,” said Dr. Duncan Stewart, a cardiologist, senior scientist, and co-senior author on the paper.
The researchers are optimistic about the promise that CT-1 holds for the future of heart therapy. The next step will be to do extensive testing in human subjects, which unfortunately may take a number of years to complete.