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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Organs that regenerate themselves from within

Health, Life, Science, Tech

Glenn Larsen, the chief scientific officer at Hydra Biosciences in Boston, has been chasing this regenerative dream for the past four years. With help from a team of Harvard University researchers, Larsen and his colleagues are developing protein-based drugs that encourage the regrowth of muscle tissue that has died after a heart attack (See Article).

The strategy Larsen envisions is simple, though groundbreaking. Patients will use a self-delivery device, such as an inhaler or supersonic drug gun, to propel the regenerative protein molecules into their bloodstream. The circulating molecules will bind to receptors on the surfaces of their damaged heart-muscle cells, touching off a chemical reaction that mutes the activity of genes inhibiting cell division. Once this biological switch has been thrown, new heart cells will begin to develop, filling in the dead-tissue gaps. The result: Within a few weeks, heart-muscle function will be permanently restored.

Human trials of Hydra’s cardiac drugs won’t begin for another few years, but experimental evidence already points to the treatment’s potential. Last year, Hydra researchers induced heart attacks in rats, then dosed them with CRF-1, one of the protein compounds under investigation, for 10 days. A month after their heart attacks, the rats receiving treatment demonstrated heart-muscle function that was about 20 percent better than that of the control group.

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