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Heart Health

“Fountain of Youth” Protein May Have Health Benefits

People previously diagnosed with heart disease may be less likely to experience heart failure, heart attacks, or stroke, or to die from these events, if they have higher blood levels of two very closely related proteins, according to a study led by a University of California, San Francisco research team and published online August 20th 2015 in the European Heart Journal.

A release from the university explains that one of these proteins, known as GDF11 and dubbed the “fountain of youth” protein, has attracted great interest since 2013 when researchers showed that it could rejuvenate old mice. Based on these findings, scientists have speculated that drugs that increase GDF11 levels might reverse physiological manifestations of aging that lead to heart failure in people.

The 2015 study is part of an ongoing research effort by the UCSF-led team to use new technologies to identify and measure a suite of proteins in blood that may be associated with poor health outcomes, and that could serve as a gauge to estimate a person’s risk of developing various cardiovascular problems, as well as their risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases.

The study population included 1,899 men and women with heart disease, from separate study groups in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Norway, who ranged in age from 40 to 85 (average 69 years). Because they already had been diagnosed with stable ischemic heart disease, in which blood supply to the heart is reduced due to coronary artery disease, the participants were at elevated risk for stroke, heart attack, hospitalization for heart failure, and death. Hundreds of the participants experienced one or more of these outcomes during the course of the study, in which they were monitored for nearly nine years.

The UCSF research team, led by Peter Ganz, MD, professor of medicine and chief of cardiology at UCSF partner hospital San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, used a lab test to measure combined blood levels of GDF11 and a very similar protein called myostatin–the test could not distinguish between the two, because they are quite similar both structurally and functionally.

The scientists determined that research subjects who had relatively high blood levels of these two proteins at the beginning of the study — in the top 25 percent of all participants — were less than half as likely to die from any cause, in comparison to participants whose blood levels ranked them in the bottom 25 percent. Those in the highest 25 percent also experienced fewer adverse health events associated with heart disease.