A Kentucky researcher solves a 60-year-old mystery about how the heart works

A Kentucky researcher solves a 60-year-old mystery about how the heart works

By Caitlin Tilley, Health Correspondent for Dailymail.Com

22:30 17 November 2023, updated 23:16 17 November 2023

  • Samples of hearts donated from patients were used to create 3D images
  • The researchers were able to determine the structure of the thick filaments in the heart
  • Read more: A new smartphone app predicts heart failure weeks before it happens

A Kentucky researcher has solved the mystery of how the heart works that has remained unanswered for six decades.

In collaboration with the University of Massachusetts, a team used samples of hearts donated from patients to generate 3D images of the heart’s thick filaments – which help the heart contract as it beats – at the level of individual molecules.

For reference, the scholars said that if the heart was a continent, then they would work with one strand of hair.

“People have been trying to figure out the structure of these filaments for 60 years,” said Kenneth Campbell, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Kentucky.

“We (now) know the molecular structure of the heart’s thick filaments and can use this information to try to design better treatments.”

The research is especially relevant to people in Kentucky because the state is one of the worst for heart disease

Campbell added: “The heart is made up of billions of cells. The cells are made up of structures called sarcomeres, and inside the sarcomeres there are things called thick filaments.

“Each filament contains approximately 2,000 molecules arranged in a really complex structure that scientists have been trying to understand for decades.”

He said the discovery of the structure means the heart muscle can be controlled more precisely than doctors and researchers previously thought.

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The professor added: “We were also excited to see how myosin C-binding protein, the protein associated with hereditary heart disease, is located within the structure. It gives us a new level of information about how molecules are arranged in the heart.”

The research is particularly relevant to people in Mr. Campbell’s home state of Kentucky, because the state has one of the highest rates of heart disease.

“We urgently need better treatments,” he said.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Kentucky, making it one of the top 10 states with the highest rates of death from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The team used heart samples from the Gill Cardiovascular Biorepository, which is managed by Mr Campbell.

Samples are provided to the Institute for research purposes from patients who underwent cardiovascular treatment at the University of Kentucky.

“With the help of a surgeon at the University of Kentucky Healthcare, we began collecting heart muscle samples from organ donors and from patients who were undergoing heart transplants,” Campbell said.

Myocardium is the muscle tissue of the heart.

He added: “We have now built a huge resource of nearly 15,000 samples from about 500 people. We are also sharing these samples with research groups around the world.

The research was published in the journal Nature earlier this month.

(tags for translation) kentucky

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