Scientists have identified a protein that can trick the heart into growing in a healthy way and boost blood flow by mimicking the effects of exercise, an advance that may help treat heart failure patients.

    Researchers, including those from University of Ottawa in Canada, discovered that a protein called cardiotrophin 1 (CT1) can trick the heart into pumping more blood, just as it does in response to exercise and pregnancy.

    They showed that this good kind of heart growth is very different from the harmful enlargement of the heart that occurs during heart failure.

    The team also found that CT1 can repair heart damage and improve blood flow in animal models of heart failure. Heart failure is a leading cause of death and disability in high-income countries and a growing problem around the world.

    It occurs when the heart can not pump enough blood through the body, often because a heart attack has damaged the heart muscle tissue.

    “When part of the heart dies, the remaining muscles try to adapt by getting bigger, but this happens in a dysfunctional way and it does not actually help the heart pump more blood,” said Lynn Megeney, professor at the University of Ottawa.

    “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,” Megeney said.

    Researchers conducted a variety of studies in mice, rats and cells growing in the lab. In addition to CT-1, some of the studies involved a drug called phenylephrine (PE), which is known to cause the bad kind of heart growth.

    “This experimental therapy is very exciting, particularly because it shows promise in treating both left and right heart failure,” said Duncan Stewart, a professor at the University of Ottawa.

    “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 not fix the problem, and left heart failure often leads to right heart failure over time,” Stewart said.

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