In a remarkable paper published in the May 9th edition of Cell, two researchers at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Richard R. Lee M.D. and Amy Wagers PhD., determined that you can reverse cardiac hypertrophy in older mice by treating them with injections of Growth Differentiation Factor 11 (GDF-11, also known as BMP-11). Cardiac hypertrophy is the thickening of the heart muscle, and occurs naturally with aging. While the heart is still beating normally, the amount of blood the heart is able to draw in per beat is reduced, which causes the decrease in function. This condition is known as diastolic heart failure, and is a serious medical condition that many elderly people face.
In previous research performed by Dr. Wagers, using a technique called parabiosis, she had demonstrated that some undetermined factors in the blood of younger organisms could be beneficial to the tissues of older organisms. In parabiotic mice, the circulatory systems of two mice are literally fused together, so both mice are circulating the same blood, a technique which has been around since the 19th century (and seems like something out of a mad scientist fiction novel). Despite the strange technique, the researchers found that if they paired an older mouse exhibiting cardiac hypertrophy with a young mouse with no heart issues, the heart tissue in the older mouse would begin to repair itself, and look almost identical to the heart tissue in the younger mouse. After a few years of studies and a great deal of searching, they were able to determine that the factor responsible for this rejuvenation was Growth Differentiation Factor 11 (GDF-11), also known as BMP-11.
BMP-11 is a member of the TGF-β superfamily, and has been previously shown to regulate the expression of Hox gene. After they isolated BMP-11 as the active factor, the researchers found that they could cause the same rejuvenation simply by injecting the older mice with doses of BMP-11. While there is still a lot of work to do in order to understand the exact effect that BMP-11 plays in this system, the researchers are hopeful that their work can lead to some clinical studies and that BMP-11 will have a similar effect in humans as it does in mice. Here at Goldbio, we feel that as we begin to understand more about growth factors and the different roles they play in cell and tissue biology, that more discoveries like this will be reported, and could lead to life saving cures in the near future. So while Dracula may be “dead and loving it”, due to his penchant for blood, he might just be young at heart.
For more information, see the published paper in the May 9th issue of Cell, and here is a link to an interview with Dr’s Lee and Wagers, from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute YouTube page.
Wagers A., Lee R. et al. “Growth Differentiation Factor 11 Is a Circulating Factor that Reverses Age-Related Cardiac Hypertrophy” Cell, Volume 153, Issue 4, 9 May 2013, Pages 828–839 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2013.04.015
Andersson O, Reissmann E, Ibáñez C. "Growth differentiation factor 11 signals through the transforming growth factor-beta receptor ALK5 to regionalize the anterior-posterior axis" (2006). EMBO Rep 7 (8): 831–7.
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