Charlie Sheen and his tiger blood may have become a pop culture reference but here they meet their match: python blood.
According to LiveScience, after a python eats, its blood becomes very full of triglycerides and its heart swells to nearly twice its normal size. When lead researcher Leslie Leinwand was approached by post-doctoral researcher Cecilia Riquelme who suggested they see if snake blood plasma would have a similar enlarging effect on rat cells, she laughed her off. Leinwand was initially reviewing changes in blood composition after the snakes fed. Leinwand called Riquelme's idea "a huge leap":
"And in fact, I've laughed about this since, because I told her not to do it. I thought there was no chance it was going to work."
But Riquelme went forward with it, and it did work. From this point the researchers set out to find the molecules that caused the growth and also protected the heart from damage in its growth:
They eventually discovered a particular batch of fatty acids that seem to trigger a flood of heart-protecting enzymes to keep damage at bay. Next, the researchers hooked up mice to miniature pumps that injected them with low doses of this fatty-acid mixture over the course of a week.
Just as the rat heart cells had grown in the dish, the living mouse hearts grew, too.
The researchers ultimate goal is to create a drug composed of these molecules that could treat patients with heart disease and other heart damage. They are currently testing the combo of fatty acids in mice with heart disease to see if it has any effect.