WSU receives NIH grant to study heart problems at molecular level | WSU News


By Tina Hilding, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University researchers have received a $1.57 million National Institutes of Health grant to understand the molecular-scale mechanisms that cause cardiomyopathy, or heart muscle disease.

The four-year project could lead to improved diagnostics and new treatments for hereditary heart conditions. Cardiomyopathy affects as many as one in 500 people around the world and can often be fatal or have lifetime health consequences.

Proteins targeted

The researchers will be studying mutations in three important proteins that play a key role in healthy heart function.

Alla Kostyukova in lab with research students

“Mutations in these proteins are found in patients with myopathy,” said Alla Kostyukova, assistant professor in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering and leader of the project. “Our work is to prove that these mutations cause these problems and to propose strategies for treatment.”

Beautifully designed

Heart muscle is made of tiny thick and thin filaments of proteins. With the help of electrical signals, the rope-like filaments bind and unbind in an intricate and precise architecture, allowing heart muscle to contract and beat. The thin filaments look like beaded necklaces and are made of actin, the most abundant protein in the human body. Tropomysin, another protein, wraps itself around the actin filaments. Tropomyosin together with two other proteins, tropomodulin and leiomodin, at the end of the actin filaments act as a sort of cap and determine the filament length.

“It’s beautifully designed,” says Kostyukova, whose research is focused on understanding protein structures.

Family genetics

In families with cardiomyopathy, genetic mutations result in formation of filaments that are either too short or too long. Those affected can have significant heart problems that cause disability, illness and…

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