Winter 2018

Collaborating for a Cure

Studying a mysterious heart condition in cats and humans is a team effort.

By Genevieve Rajewski

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A disorder called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, in which heart muscle becomes abnormally thick and dysfunctional, affects at least 1 in 10 cats. The disease is also a common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young people, including athletes who die on the playing field. Although an echocardiogram can diagnose it in humans and cats—and implantable cardiac defibrillators can help safeguard humans most at risk—there’s no medication or therapy that stops or significantly slows the progression of heart failure. Tufts scientists working in both human and veterinary medicine now hope they can change that by encouraging interdisciplinary research—a strategy they outlined in the August 2017 issue of Cardiology Research.

In both people and cats, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is often linked to genetic mutations, but it is still unclear what causes the disease to vary so much in severity. Lead author Lisa Freeman, J86, V91, NG96, a veterinary nutritionist at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine with a secondary appointment at the Friedman School, said research suggests that diet and growth patterns early in life, even in utero, may play a significant role in how the disease develops. Unraveling these nutrient-gene interactions may provide a key opportunity for improved therapeutic targets and nutritional strategies for managing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, Freeman said. What we learn, she said, may “help not only cats, but ultimately humans.”

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