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CU-Boulder, biotech firm team up on python project in search for human cardiac therapeutics
Date:8/25/2008

ardiomyopathy, or HCM, a genetic disease marked by a thickening of heart muscle related to a weakness in individual muscle fibers that causes them to work harder to pump blood and consequently enlarge. HCM occurs in one in 500 people in the United States and is the most common cardiac cause of sudden death in young athletes. About 20 genes associated with HCM have been identified and others are being investigated, she said.

In 2006 Leinwand was named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor, one of 20 faculty nationwide to receive a four-year, $1 million undergraduate education award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md. As part of her successful proposal to enhance science education at CU-Boulder, she initiated an undergraduate laboratory research program known as the Python Project.

In the past two years, CU-Boulder undergraduates working with Leinwand have been studying the genome of the Burmese python, searching out and analyzing particular genes they suspect may be involved in the rapid heart muscle changes.

"Pythons can eat up to 100 percent of their body weight at one sitting, so they have to be able to respond metabolically in a dramatic way," said Leinwand. In addition to the eye-popping changes in heart muscle and metabolism, the python's insulin levels go up 40-fold and their triglycerides rise by more than 100-fold following substantial meals, changes that would "kill a human," she said.

Pythons also exhibit very little muscle loss when at rest, which is of interest to researchers studying diseases like AIDS and cancer and the inevitable process of aging. "We think several of the striking changes we see in python physiology may have significant potential for the pharmaceutical industry," she said.

Hiberna -- which received a $100,000 proof-of-concept investment from CU's Technology Transfer Office to help support the development of the new technology -- has started sequencing the
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Contact: Leslie Leinwand
Leslie.Leinwand@colorado.edu
303-492-7606
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert  

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CU-Boulder, biotech firm team up on python project in search for human cardiac therapeutics
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