Heart disease remains the greatest threat to overall health in the United States. It consistently tops the list as the most prominent cause of death, taking the lives of more than 600,000 Americans a year.
Doctors Amy Wagers and Rich Lee believe that they have found a way to treat older, out-of-shape hearts and make them new and improved.
Wagers explains that the heart will experience a steady loss in function as people age. The two doctors set about determining the cause of that decline and whether physicians are able to prevent or reverse it.
When heart failure occurs, the heart increases in size because muscle thickens and eventually becomes stiff. As a result, fluid can build up in the lungs, which causes breathing difficulty. The most prevalent cause is high blood pressure, though other ailments have caused a similar issue. The heart is then compromised when trying to pump blood throughout the body. Smoking, diabetes and obesity have been known to further disrupt the body’s natural process.
Courses of treatment have included numerous different medications designed to relax the heart muscle. Some medications, known as beta-blockers, are able to reduce stiffness over time. Those who suffer from these problems are often prescribed diuretics, which cause the kidneys to urinate extra fluid in the body—specifically the lungs.
Numerous medical professionals have suspected that a hormone or some other element can undo the aging process, Lee says. Finding this element would decrease the need for measures such as medication or other clinical management.
In order to explore further options, the two doctors tried a unique experiment. Medical staff at Harvard focused on a hormone known as GDF-11, which regresses with age in mice. Scientists acquired GDF-11 from healthy, young mice and administered it to older mice who were suffering from heart failure.
Since the heart is hardly known for its regenerative qualities, the experiments were expected to fail, Wagers acknowledges. The results, however, surprised both doctors.
During their investigative study, Wagers and Lee noticed that the old mouse hearts mirrored the appearance of young mouse hearts when exposed to GDF-11.
As the next step, the team will test to determine if GDF-11 possesses the same impact in humans. The overall goal is to one day discover a proper cure for humans to combat potentially fatal illnesses such as coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure and angina.