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the human heart

Strong hearts need strong blood vessels — lab neighbors discover

A conversation about a molecule called Ino80 led to findings that could help researchers develop therapies for a rare genetic disease of the heart muscle.

The secret to babies being born with strong hearts, researchers reported recently in Nature Communications, may lie in part in whether blood vessels around the heart develop properly. And the secret to that research, said senior authors Kristy Red-Horse, PhD, and Ashby Morrison, PhD, was the fact that their offices and labs are right next to each other. As I explain in a Stanford news release:

Apart from the fact that both are biologists, Morrison and Red-Horse don’t have that much in common as researchers. For one thing, Red-Horse, who is a member of Stanford Bio-X, the Cardiovascular Institute and the Child Health Research Institute, studies the development of tissues and whole organs, often by breeding her own genetically modified mice. Much of Morrison’s research, meanwhile, centers on the basic molecular machinery that reads out messages in the DNA and uses it to build functioning cells – usually in yeast.

'Kristy’s on the opposite side,' said Morrison, a member of Stanford Bio-X, the Child Health Research Institute and the Stanford Cancer Institute.

Still, their physical proximity got them talking, and among the topics of conversation was a particular molecule that Morrison had been looking at, one that turns out to be present not just in yeast but also in mice and many other living things, too. That got them wondering: what did that molecule do in those other living things, and what would happen if it disappeared?

Quite a lot, actually, at least when they removed the molecule, called Ino80 from the developing network of blood vessels around the heart. Without Ino80, that network doesn't form properly and the heart muscle doesn't develop properly either — instead of firm and tough, it ends up spongy and weak.

The mice developed a condition that is quite similar to a heart disease in humans called ventricular non-compaction. Their findings could in the long run help researchers develop new therapies for the condition, Red-Horse and Morrison said.

Photo by Getty Images

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