Nature’s Own ‘Sponge’ Provides Answer To Heart Failure

Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology and the Lillehei Heart Institute have contributed a revolutionary new solution to the field of cardiovascular health. The innovation comes in the form of a new optimized protein that offers to solve the problem of diastolic heart failure and could mean transformed wellbeing for thousands of sufferers.

Diastolic heart failure results from the failure of calcium’s role in the pumping process. Ordinarily, calcium forms part of a signalling mechanism which causes the squeezing action of the heart. The level of calcium should then drop immediately in order to allow sufficient relaxation before the next pump. In diastolic heart failure, the process is flawed in that the level of calcium does not fall quickly enough to enable a successful pump.

The researchers were able to identify a specific protein, parvalbumin, which promises to make all the difference to the problem of diastolic heart failure. Parvalbumin is a protein that aids the relaxation of twitching muscles. When optimized, it becomes a kind of ‘calcium sponge’, able to soak up the excess calcium in diastolic heart conditions. Proper functioning is restored when the heart is able to relax sufficiently after each contraction.

Joseph M. Metzger, PhD., of the University of Minnesota’s Medical School, attributed the discovery of parvalbumin to the teams’ close observation of natural processes. There are many unique organisms in nature able to contract and relax muscles at speed. Their research focus on such substances enabled them to find the most efficient protein in this area, and harness it for work in the human heart. Clever optimization of the natural protein has led them to a valuable new medical frontier.

The discovery is welcomed by medical researchers and heart patients alike, who consider the change as a meaningful conceptual move towards heart wellness. All that remains is for the mechanism of delivery to be refined further in the lab. A suitable molecular or genetic delivery method is now all that’s required for this new discovery to start making meaningful difference to peoples’ lives.


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