Snake blood makes the heart grow

Charles Harvey

Snake oil might be best avoided but snake blood may be just what the doctor ordered. Injecting snake-blood plasma into mice increased the size of their heart. The discovery could prove key in the treatment of heart damage.

In humans, an enlarged heart is normally a sign that the body is in trouble. Heart attacks, high blood pressure and defects in heart valves all force the heart to work harder and grow to manage the extra load. Growth can scar the heart and decrease the efficiency of nutrient absorption in heart cells.

The heart of the Burmese python, a subspecies of Indian python, also grows. After eating a large meal, the organ nearly doubles in size to pump recently digested nutrients around its body. This growth, however, has no negative side effects and is reversible.

Similarly, heart growth in humans is not always negative. A hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), produced during exercise, causes the heart to swell in order to meet increased bodily demand for oxygen. When growth occurs in this way, there is no scarring.

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