May 102013
RESEARCHERS AT THE HARVARD STEM CELL INSTITUTE have discovered a substance in the blood of young mice that reverses a major effect of aging in the hearts of old mice.

The substance, called GDF-11, is an obscure member of the transforming growth factor family of proteins; it was identified by Forst family professor of stem cell and regenerative biology Amy Wagers and Harvard Medical School professor Richard T. Lee, working with a startup company, SomaLogic, that has developed a technology for analyzing factors in the blood. Lee and Wagers report their finding that GDF-11 reverses cardiac hypertrophy, or thickening of the heart muscle, in mice, in the May 9 issue of the journal Cell.

The heart’s walls thicken with age—the primary cause of cardiac failure in humans, explains Lee, a practicing cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Yet in the study, when older mice were given the factor, he says, “we could reverse the heart aging in a very short period of time.” The change from a thickened, fibrotic heart to the smooth-muscled heart of youth is so dramatic, it is reportedly visible to the naked eye.

Wagers had previously discovered, during research in which the circulatory system of a young mouse was surgically joined to that of an old one, that a factor circulating in the blood could reverse aging in skeletal muscle and the spinal cord (see “A Hidden Youthfulness”). But because the heart, unlike many other organs, does not have a known ability to regenerate naturally, she did not expect to see a similar effect there. “The effect of blood-based factors is broader than we anticipated,” she says now.

Read more . . .

via Harvard Magazine
Photograph by B.D. Colen/Harvard University

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