When Stanford biochemist Jim Spudich settled down in bed with a book recommended by his wife, he had no idea that the book would inspire one of the biggest discoveries of his career. Spudich drifted off to sleep while reading The Haunted Mesa, a science fiction novel by Louis L’Amour. His scientific discovery was based on an image he saw in his dreams when the image of a mesa morphed into a myosin molecule.
Myosins are proteins that make the contraction of heart muscle possible. In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, these proteins work too well, causing a heartbeat that is too strong.
The mesa in the book inspired Spudich to look at the head of the myosin. His previous research had focused on random locations along the entire length of the myosin.
Spudich’s groundbreaking work ultimately led to current clinical trials of the drug mavacamten which is being developed by the San Francisco biotech company MyoKardia.
This article tells the whole story of the beginnings of this groundbreaking research.
Researchers from around the globe have joined together to study an unlikely subject in order to understand the genetics of HCM according to a paper published today in the journal eLIFE.
Dr. Christine Seidman, a cardiologist from Harvard Medical School, Dr. James Ware a geneticist from the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences at Imperial College London, and Dr. Raúl Padrón, a structural biologist at the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research, have joined forces in order to study the tarantula.
The reason for their focus on the tarantula is because the proteins comprising the muscles inside the furry spider are actually very similar to proteins inside the human heart.
Dr. Seidman, who had taken note of Dr. Padrón’s work with spiders, sought him out at a meeting to discuss the similarity of heart proteins to those in tarantula muscles and asked him whether they might collaborate.
By studying the way that the spider proteins interact with one another, the scientists hope that they will gain further insight into whether and how certain genes cause different types of hereditary cardiomyopathy, including hypertrophic and dilated.
I hope that they find the answers soon, before any tarantulas escape from their lab!