2013-05-14

Could A Protein Found In Young Blood Be A Fountain Of Youth?

A new study has found that a protein that slowly degrades as we get older might have almost miraculous effects on the bodies of the elderly.

No matter how healthy your lifestyle is, no one can avoid the reality that organs age and eventually fail. In fact heart aging, not heart attack, causes the most common form of heart failure, despite the latter typically getting more attention.

But scientists at Harvard recently published a paper describing a protein that naturally occurs in the blood and can enact fountain-of-youth like properties, at least on the rats that they’re studying:

The Harvard Gazette reports:

When the protein, called GDF-11, was injected into old mice, which develop thickened heart walls in a manner similar to aging humans, the hearts were reduced in size and thickness, resembling the healthy hearts of younger mice.

GDF-11 naturally diminishes with age, so younger rats have more of it in their blood than older ones. But simply replacing it in the blood of older rats seems to have big consequences.

As Harvard Medical School doctor Richard Lee told the paper:

"In this study, we were able to show that a protein that circulates in the blood is related to this aging process, and if we gave older mice this protein, we could reverse the heart aging in a very short period of time. […] We are very excited about it because it opens a new window on the most common form of heart failure.”

He added, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of."

The scientists claim it will take four or five years to move GDF-11 to clinical trials. But Lee says he can already think of about 20 patients in his practice with age-related (or diastolic) heart failure who could benefit from the treatment if it’s successful:

"They come into the hospital, have a lot of fluid taken off, then they’ll go home. Then they come back again. It’s really frustrating because we don’t have any drugs to treat this. We need to work as hard as we can to figure out if this discovery can be turned into a treatment for heart failure in our aging patients.”

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