Pythons clue for heart patients
Human heart patients may benefit from a study of hungry pythons, scientists believe.
Fatty acids circulating in the bloodstreams of feeding pythons promote healthy heart growth, researchers have discovered.
A similar effect in humans could make hearts stronger and fitter, like those of athletes.
Previous studies had shown that the hearts of Burmese pythons may grow in mass by 40% within 24 to 72 hours after a large meal. The speed of the snakes' metabolism can shoot up 40-fold immediately after swallowing prey.
The US scientists found a more than 50-fold increase in triglycerides, the main constituent of natural fats and oils, in the blood of Burmese pythons one day after eating. There was no evidence of fat being deposited in the heart, and the researchers also saw increased activity from a key enzyme known to protect hearts from damage.
The team then injected fasting pythons with either "fed python" blood plasma or a reconstituted fatty acid mixture. In both cases, the pythons showed increased heart growth and signs of heart health.
Injecting mice with the same two substances produced similar results.
"We found that a combination of fatty acids can induce beneficial heart growth in living organisms," said researcher Dr Cecilia Riquelme, from the University of Colorado. "Now we are trying to understand the molecular mechanisms behind the process in the hope that the results might lead to new therapies to improve heart disease conditions in humans."
The research is published in the journal Science.
"Well-conditioned athletes like Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and cyclist Lance Armstrong have huge hearts," said study leader Professor Leslie Leinwand, also from the University of Colorado. "But there are many people who are unable to exercise because of existing heart disease, so it would be nice to develop some kind of a treatment to promote the beneficial growth of heart cells."