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Redefining Snake Oil: Lessons Learned from Pythons that Could Benefit People

Event Details

Event Dates: 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - 10:00am

Speaker Name(s): 

Leslie Leinwand

Speaker Affiliation(s): 

MCDB, University of Colorado Boulder
Seminar Type/Subject

Event Details & Abstract: 

The major research interests of Dr. Leinwand’s laboratory are the biology of inherited diseases of the heart and how gender and diet modify the heart. Recently, her work has focused on the extreme biology of the Burmese python and how this biology might be translated to therapeutics for human heart disease. In the wild pythons do not eat very often but when they do eat, they eat enormous meals that can equal their body mass. To digest such a meal, almost all organs in the body grow very rapidly and then regress in size just as rapidly. Her laboratory’s investigations into the mechanisms responsible for the increase in heart mass in Burmese pythons after a large meal have revealed information that may be applicable to the mammalian heart. They found that heart growth in pythons is characterized by cellular enlargement in the absence of cell proliferation and by activation of beneficial signaling pathways much like the process by which highly conditioned athletes increase the sizes of their hearts. Despite extremely high levels of circulating lipids, which would be toxic to the heart, the post-fed python heart does not accumulate fats. Instead, there is robust activation of pathways of fatty acid transport and oxidation combined with increased expression and activity of a cardioprotective enzyme. They also identified a specific combination of three fatty acids in python plasma that promotes beneficial heart growth when injected into either pythons or mice. The long term goal is to promote heart health using the biology of the python.