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Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 15:14 GMT
Sprinters' protein 'treats heart failure'
The protein helps sprinters run fast
A protein that helps athletes run faster may also help to treat a common type of progressive heart failure, say researchers.

The protein, called parvalbumin, helps skeletal muscle fibres in the arms and legs contract and relax rapidly and efficiently.

Olympic sprinters have high levels of parvalbumin in their skeletal muscle, which helps explain why they can run faster than the rest of us.

Parvalbumin works like a sponge helping skeletal muscle cells relax faster by soaking up calcium ions.

Now a team from the University of Michigan Medical School has shown for the first time that parvalbumin can also improve heart function in laboratory rats.

The protein successfully restored normal relaxation rates in hearts with a condition that mimics the abnormally slow cardiac relaxation common in human heart failure.

Lead researcher Dr Joseph Metzger said: "Although important and challenging scientific obstacles remain, our findings raise the intriguing possibility of one day using parvalbumin therapy to treat progressive heart failure in humans."

Growing problem

Protein help treat heart failure
Heart failure is a growing medical problem in the developed world.

This is thought, in part, to more people eating a high-fat diet and not taking enough exercise.

However, in about 40% of cases heart failure is associated with a condition called diastolic dysfunction where the heart contracts normally, but does not relax fast enough to allow the cardiac chambers to fill with blood before the next contraction.

The gene for parvalbumin is found in every cell in the body, but it is not naturally activated or expressed in heart muscle cells.

The Michigan team used a virus to insert parvalbumin genetic material into the heart cells of rats.

The same technique cannot be used in humans because it would stimulate the immune system.

However, work is in progress to find a method which would work in humans.

A British Heart Foundation spokeswoman said: "Until recently the outcome for the half a million people in the UK with heart failure was worse than for suffers of most cancers.

"Modern treatments have changed this dramatically. However heart failure is still a growing problem.

"As the parvalbumin researchers admit, their research cannot be applied to humans because the body would reject the protein over time.

"Any potential therapeutic uses for parvalbumin would need to overcome this problem and therefore are a long way off.

"This research is still exciting as without the small jigsaw pieces the whole picture of heart failure cannot be revealed, so further research into parvalbumin would be of value."

The research is published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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