Heart Failure Treatment Could Be In Our Blood

Harvard researchers stitched two mice together and rejuvenated one of their hearts. Seriously.


Can the heart be rejuvenated? Photo via Shutterstock

Researchers from Harvard Stem Cell Institute found what they believe could be a way to rejuvenate aging hearts using—and this is where it gets crazy—an experiment in which the circulatory system of a young mouse was stitched together with the circulatory system of an aging mouse. Stay with us.

After the two mice were connected, the researchers could clearly see that the aging mouse heart was being regenerated by something in the young mouse’s blood, which they later identified to be the protein GDF-11. A Boston Globe article quotes researcher Richard T. Lee:

“The change was unbelievably obvious,” said Dr. Richard T. Lee, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and one of the leaders of the study, published Thursday in the journal Cell. “Usually we do quite sophisticated quantitative analyses of hearts and the shapes of the cells and things like that. … You could see what happened from the very first experiment.”

Though the research is far from translatable to humans at this point, the Globe article explains that the findings could someday be applied as a way to thwart or treat heart failure, and potentially even prevent the harm brought to other tissues and organs as they age.

Not everyone is so sure, though. The article quotes Dr. Eduardo Marbán, director of Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute:

“They’ve elucidated a mechanism of normal aging which may, at the level of plausibility, have something to do with heart failure,” said Dr. Eduardo Marbán, director of Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute. He added, “there’s absolutely no demonstration in this paper that GDF-11 will help heart failure, or be involved at all in any disease state. … This is the beginning of a long road.”

Marbán said that as all people age, their hearts naturally change, with cells getting larger and the muscle walls thickening. But he noted that most of those people never develop heart failure, so it is unclear whether the effect the researchers achieved would be a way to successfully treat heart failure.

Doubts and all, we think this study, aside from being fascinating, opens the door to a new way of looking at aging and organ failure in the human body. Looking at treatment at the molecular level seems like a pretty brilliant idea to us.