Researchers at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute have identified a blood protein they say can reverse the ageing process in mouse hearts. After introducing the protein into the hearts of old mice, the scientists say they saw the organs 'grow younger' before their eyes, results that could eventually help in the tratment of human heart disease. Ben Gruber has more.
CAMBRIDGE AND BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES (REUTERS/HARVARD/CELL/AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION) - Scientists at Harvard say they have managed to turn back time in the heart of an ageing mouse, using an obscure, blood-based protein called GDF-11. Professor Amy Wagers and her colleagues noticed that the protein was prevalent in young mice but gradually diminished as they grew older.
They wanted find out what role GDF-11 plays as hearts age. So they set up an experiment, infusing the protein-rich blood of young mice into the hearts of old mice.
Wagers admits she didn't expect much.
"When we set out to do these studies to see if we could reverse ageing characteristics in the heart, my somewhat secret hypothesis was that it would not respond, that there would be no change in the heart."
But it turns out Amy Wagers was wrong. GDF-11 reversed the ageing process - and quickly.
"Within four weeks we could see that a heart that was large in an older animal now after four weeks of being exposed to young blood was actually smaller."
As hearts age they grow larger, arterial walls get thicker and the organ works less efficiently. Wagers says the protein reversed all of these signs of ageing. Now on the team is working to find out exactly how the protein works.
DR. RICHARD LEE, CARDIOLOGIST, BRIGHAM WOMANS HOSPITAL,
"So in this case we think we could go quite quickly because often in a laboratory you have the discovery but it is not the therapy. And in this case there is the potential for the therapy actually being the discovery itself."
The scientists stress that the research is still in its infancy and what works in mice will not necessarily work in humans. But they are hopeful that in the not too distant future the saying "young at heart" will have taken on a whole new meaning.