Of mice, fat and heart attacks

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

There were two science stories making news today, they are seemingly unrelated, but if the trends outlined in both continue, they may become parts of the same story.

Researchers at the University of Washington have used human stem cells to regrow the heart muscles of rats that were survivors of lab-induced heart attacks. In a heart attack, cells in the heart muscle die and are replaced by scar tissue, which does not beat, often leading to more heart attacks and eventual death.

The breakthrough is significant for another reason. The rats that regrew heart muscle were immune to the progression of heart failure. The technique is far from being ready to be used in humans to reverse damage and repair damage from heart attacks, but this is a tremendous breakthrough.

As is the case with most good news, there is usually bad news. Yesterday, the Trust for America's Health, a research group that focuses on disease prevention reported that the percentage of Americans that are categorized as obese has increased in 31 of the 50 states.

Iowa has the 20th highest rate of adult obesity at 24.9 percent and the 35th highest rate of overweight youths (ages 10-17) at 12.5 percent in the nation, according to the report. The rate of obesity did not change in Iowa from last year, which is considered good news, since no state experienced a decrease in obesity.

In case you are wondering, Mississippi topped the list with the highest rate of adult obesity in the country for the third year in a row, and is the first state to reach a rate of over 30 percent (at 30.6 percent). Ten of the 15 states with the highest rates of adult obesity are located in the South. Colorado was the leanest state again this year, however, its adult obesity rate increased over the past year (from 16.9 to 17.6 percent).

Obesity can be one of the causes of heart disease. With the path we are on as a nation, there may be a time when we will be able (and need to) use stem cells to repair our over worked hearts.

Or maybe we could skip the extra portions and take a walk.