Did you think that an enlarged heart always posed negative effects? Well think again! The plasma of snake’s blood increased the size of mice’s hearts, and this could prove to treat heart damage in humans.
In humans, an enlarged heart is normally a bad sign. Heart attacks, high blood pressure, and defects in heart valves all force the heart to work harder and grow to manage the extra load. Growth can scar the heart and decrease the efficiency of nutrient absorption in heart cells.
But the hearts of snakes double in size to pump recently digested nutrients around their body. This growth, however, has no negative side effects and is reversible.
But heart growth in humans isn’t always bad. A hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1),which can be produced naturally during exercise, causes the heart to swell in order to meet increased bodily demand for oxygen; and there is no scarring for this kind of heart growth.
To see if snake blood could have the same effect on other animals’ cells, Leinwand found that if they produced a greater volume of IGF-1 while also increasing in size, the cells were able to process fats more effectively and had a faster metabolism. The snake plasma also caused the rat cells to produce less NFAT – a protein created when hearts are stressed.
After one week, the hearts of these mice had increased in size and showed no sign of scar tissue.
Leinwand believes that the discovery could lead to new treatments to strengthen hearts damaged by heart attack. She now plans to test the fatty acids on mice with heart disease to see if cell death in the heart can be slowed or even reversed.