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"More than 35,000 babies are born each year with congenital heart defects, and there are nearly 5 million adults who suffer from heart failure in the United States" says Deepak Srivastava, MD, director of Gladstone cardiovascular research.
"The research, being published online in Nature Cell Biology, adds to our understanding of the role of stem cells in embryonic heart development, and how that process could be manipulated to create new heart muscle in the future. These findings reveal an unexpected cross-talk between two important proteins that together regulate the growth of many types of stem cells, including cardiac stem cells."
In their research paper, Dr. Srivastava and his colleagues describe how Notch and Beta-Catenin, the two proteins in question, contribute to the regulation of cell growth and fetal development.
Notch protein degrades Beta-Catenin, which in turn affects the growth of both stem cells and cancer cells. However, when Notch and Beta-Catenin don't interact, stem cells can expand out of control. Disruption of the balance of these two proteins can lead to a malformed heart during embryonic development. In adults, over-active Beta-Catenin can promote abnormal cell growth in the intestinal wall, opening the door for colon cancer.
This results underscore the value of "basic" research when scientists focus on improving a fundamental understanding of biology as opposed to "applied" research which targets a specific drug. Basic research often leads to breakthroughs that can significantly improve human health.
"We weren't at all focused on cancer as we created and carried out our experiments," said Chulan Kwon, PhD, who led the work at Gladstone and now is assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "But it is gratifying that while expanding our basic knowledge of how these two proteins interact, we have increased the chances of being able to offer new solutions for those suffering from colorectal cancer."
Dr. Srivastava, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF), said his group has already begun additional research to uncover other proteins impacting Notch and Beta-Catenin.
"We hope that this research will lead us to new potential therapies for cancer, and towards a better understanding of heart defects in newborns," said Paul Cheng, who co-led the study and is an MD/PhD student at the UCSF School of Medicine and at Gladstone.
Gladstone is affiliated with UCSF, and is a leading and independent biomedical-research organization focusing on cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease and viral infections.
Original article: http://www.gladstone.ucsf.edu/gladstone/site/publicaffairs/content/1/726