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Discovery could lead to new treatments for heart failure


Dr. Lynn Megeney’s research team found that the protein cardiotrophin could repair heart damage and improve blood flow in animal models of heart failure.

Sharon MacDonald’s parents taught her to finish what she started. But living with heart failure has taught her a different philosophy.

“Pace yourself,” said the 68-year-old Ottawa resident. “If you can’t finish what you start, don’t worry about it. Take a rest first.”

Like many patients with heart failure, MacDonald’s heart is weakened and cannot keep up with her body’s demands. She experiences fatigue and shortness of breath, especially when walking up hills.

Image of Sharon MacDonald-Heart Failure Patient

Sharon MacDonald lives at a different pace because of her heart failure. The discovery that a protein can trick the heart into growing in a healthy way could one day provide new treatments for patients like her.

“My heart function is very low,” she said. “So I slow myself down. If there’s somewhere to sit, like the bench at a bus stop, I sit down and rest for five to 10 minutes before continuing on.”

There is currently no cure for heart failure like MacDonald’s. She manages her condition with medication, a pacemaker and a healthy lifestyle, as well as support from her siblings.

But Ottawa researchers have discovered that a protein called cardiotrophin 1 (CT1) may be a potential treatment for heart failure.

Image of how the treatment works

“We found that CT1 causes heart muscles to grow in a healthy way and it also stimulates blood vessel growth in the heart,” said Dr. Lynn Megeney, senior author of the study published in Cell Research and a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. “This actually increases the heart’s ability to pump blood, just like what you would see with exercise and pregnancy.”

The research team found that the protein could repair heart damage and improve blood flow in animal models of heart failure.

“This experimental therapy is very exciting, particularly because it shows promise in treating both left and right heart failure,” said Dr. Duncan Stewart, a cardiologist, senior scientist and Executive Vice-President of Research at The Ottawa Hospital and a professor at the University of Ottawa. “Currently, the only treatment for right heart failure is a transplant.”

Drs. Megeney and Stewart are hoping to begin human testing of this protein, although it will take a number of years before it could reach patients as a standard therapy.

Until then, MacDonald will continue to live at her heart’s pace. “Everything is done in my time, and when my body says I can,” she said.

image of cardiotrophin treatment using a heart of a rat











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