Python Study May Have Implications for Human Heart Health

A surprising new University of Colorado-Boulder study shows that huge amounts of fatty acids circulating in the bloodstreams of feeding pythons promote healthy heart growth, results that may have implications for treating human heart disease. CU-Boulder Professor Leslie Leinwand and her research team found the amount of triglycerides -- the main constituent of natural fats and oils -- in the blood of Burmese pythons one day after eating increased by more than fifty-fold. Despite the massive amount of fatty acids in the python bloodstream, there was no evidence of fat deposition in the heart, and the researchers also saw an increase in the activity of a key enzyme known to protect the heart from damage. After identifying the chemical make-up of blood plasma in fed pythons, the CU-Boulder researchers injected fasting pythons with either "fed python" blood plasma or a reconstituted fatty acid mixture they developed to mimic such plasma. In both cases, the pythons showed increased heart growth and indicators of cardiac health. The team took the experiments a step farther by injecting mice with either fed python plasma or the fatty acid mixture, with the same results. "We found that a combination of fatty acids can induce beneficial heart growth in living organisms," said CU-Boulder postdoctoral researcher Dr. Cecilia Riquelme, first author on the research article being published in the October 28, 2011 issue of the journal Science. In addition to Drs. Leinwand and Riquelme, the authors include CU postdoctoral researcher Dr. Brooke Harrison, CU graduate student Jason Magida, CU undergraduate Christopher Wall, Hiberna Corp. researcher Dr. Thomas Marr, and University of Alabama Tuscaloosa Professor Stephen Secor.
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