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August 09, 2017

Researchers find protein that could trick your heart into thinking you exercised

Tests on mice, rats suggest therapy could help reverse effects of heart failure

There's no greater satisfaction than feeling your heart thump after an intense workout and knowing the cardiovascular benefits you'll reap were well-earned. 

What if you could achieve the same results without breaking a sweat? 

Scientists at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute recently revealed the discovery of a protein, cardiotrophin 1 (CT1), can "trick" the heart into pumping more blood and growing to the same degree offered by exercise. 

In a study led by Dr. Lynn Megeney, researchers conducted a variety of CT1 tests in mice, rats and lab-grown cells to examine the differences between healthy heart growth and the kind of dangerous enlargement found during heart failure. 

“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,” Megeney said. “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.”

Carried over to human beings, the research could pave the way for strengthening heart muscle tissue in patients whose existing conditions often make exercise a risky activity. 

“This experimental therapy is very exciting, particularly because it shows promise in treating both left and right heart failure,” said Dr. Duncan Stewart, a cardiologistand co-senior author on the paper. “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.” 

It will likely be a while before researchers are able to test CT1 in human beings, but in the meantime, while this sort of treatment sounds like a fantasy, it's useful to remember that actually exercisin has all kinds of other physical and mental health benefits. 

The full CT1 study can be accessed in the journal Cell Research

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