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Researchers Discover Protein that Could Reverse Aging in the Heart

Update Date: May 09, 2013 02:18 PM EDT

Though a person may feel young at heart, the organ says otherwise. Heart muscles become thicker as they become older. While the heart can still pump out blood normally, it can never rest enough to properly refill, causing a condition called diastolic heart failure. No treatment currently exists to reverse the condition.

No treatment until now, perhaps. A recent study conducted by researchers at Harvard University, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital may have found the way to keep old tickers young. Using a technique devised about 300 years ago, the researchers connected two mice, one old and one young. Both were circulating the same blood supply. Interestingly, while the young heart remained the same, the old heart returned to its young state, with heart cells resembling that of the two-month-old mouse, according to Science Now.

Researchers searched for an explanation for the phenomenon, settling on one: GDF-11. The protein, which is linked to the growth of spinal and smell receptors, is produced abundantly in young mice, but its production drops off with age. The researchers had performed studies that had linked the protein to heart youth.

So researchers tried a more direct method of providing older mice with the protein: they simply injected them with GDF-11 over the course of 30 days. They inserted a control group with saline as well for the same time period. The treatment came with results: the mice who were injected with the protein had healthier, younger-looking heart cells.

Researchers believe that it is possible that the treatment could work with the same level of success in humans as with mice. In addition, according to New Scientist, the protein could also help rejuvenate other organs. Young blood may also contain other substances that could rejuvenate organs.

The study was published in the journal Cell.

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