Scientists edge closer to mending broken hearts

December 15th, 2008 - 2:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 15 (IANS) Scientists edged closer to mending broken hearts by identifying a molecule that greatly improves its functioning after its muscles have been scarred in an attack. The findings offer heartening news for the millions who are suffering from this debilitating condition. Scientists isolated a protein, sFRP2, which they unexpectedly found to be involved in the formation of collagen, the main component of scar tissue.

“With many injuries and diseases, large amounts of collagen are formed and deposited in tissues, leading to scarring and a condition called fibrosis,” explained co-author Daniel S. Greenspan, professor of pathology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

“Fibrosis can seriously affect the functioning of heart, lung, liver and other tissues,” he added. The protein may also be important in treating other diseases resulting in severe fibrosis, including liver cirrhosis and interstitial lung disease, he said.

Greenspan, an expert on collagen, joined Thomas Sato of Weill Cornell Medical College to study mice that don’t produce sFRP2 to understand how the protein works, according to Wisconsin release.

When the scientists restricted blood flow to the animals’ hearts, mimicking a heart attack, they found that scarring was significantly reduced in these sFRP2-free animals.

“Importantly, we found that when we reduced the level of fibrosis, heart function significantly improved in the mice,” said Greenspan, also a professor of pharmacology at UW-Madison.

Identifying agents that specifically target sFRP2 and halt its activity will be a promising approach to controlling heart attack-induced scarring and impaired heart function, said Greenspan, and his lab has begun the search.

The UW scientists also hope to study how sFRP2 and other proteins that enhance collagen formation may interact.

The study appeared in Nature Cell Biology online on Sunday.

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