Cardiomyopathy Patients Thank Turkeys This Thanksgiving

When former public affairs officer, Linda, started experiencing heart palpitations and feeling unusually tired, she was confused. She led a healthy lifestyle, maintaining a nutritious diet and a regular workout schedule. She mistakenly took the heart palpitations as a sign to exercise more, but her symptoms became intolerable as she began to experience near-fainting episodes. Her doctor advised her to get her heart tested.

Linda’s doctor administered an echocardiogram to see how well her heart was functioning. The test measures the ejection fraction (EF), which ultimately accounts for the percentage of blood pumped out of the patient’s heart, with every beat. This simple test has a patient lie on an examination table as the doctor holds a transducer- (an instrument that looks similar to a computer mouse) to the patient’s chest. The transducer sends sound waves to the heart; these waves bounce off the heart and are collected and processed by a computer (Mayo Clinic, 2011).

When Linda finally got her test results back, she was alarmed to find her EF was 25%. An EF of less than 40% means the heart might have a weakened muscle, making it unable to pump enough blood to satisfy the body’s demands (“Linda’s Story,” 2010). A healthy heart’s EF lies between 55- 70%. Linda’s doctor decided to take a chest x-ray and it showed that her heart was enlarged; she needed immediate medical attention.

Linda’s doctor concluded that she had dilated cardiomyopathy. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this disease affects about four per 10,000 people in the United States every year (Cleveland Clinic, 2000). Only an estimated 50% of patients with dilated cardiomyopathy live longer than five years after their diagnosis. Shocked and terrified for her life and her family’s well being, Linda frantically did some research on the disease to answer her questions.

“What exactly is dilated cardiomyopathy?” she wondered.

The left ventricle of a heart with dilated cardiomyopathy enlarges, making it harder for the patient to pump blood to the rest of the body.

The left ventricle of a heart with dilated cardiomyopathy enlarges, making it harder for the patient to pump blood to the rest of the body.

She discovered that it is a disease that affects heart muscles. It mostly targets the left ventricle, which is the heart’s main pumping chamber. The affected ventricle becomes enlarged and can no longer pump blood to the rest of the body as well as it should. This can lead to complications including heart failure, cardiac arrest, and pulmonary edema. (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2011).

Scientists have found the Meleagris gallopavo, more commonly known as the turkey, to be an accurate model in mimicking the changes of a failing human heart because dilated cardiomyopathy affects turkeys’ and humans’ hearts in similar ways.

Humans and turkeys have similar function and structure to their hearts. The right ventricle moves blood through the lungs and back to the heart, while the left ventricle pumps blood to the rest of the body. In both organisms, the left ventricle is thicker because it has to pump the blood to the aorta, which, in turn, pumps blood to the rest of the body. (“The Turkey Anatomy Lesson,” 2012). Turkeys and humans share many of the same natural chemicals, such as tryptophan and auriculin. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is essential to the human diet in regulating appetite and sleep and can elevate one’s mood. Auriculin is a hormone released in the atriums of the heart when the body experiences an abnormal increase in blood pressure. This hormone is released during heart failure in both humans and turkeys. Auriculin keeps the left ventricle from failing for as long as possible. (Brandt et al., 1993).

Turkeys and humans both have calcium metabolisms. Calcium metabolism, or Ca+2 metabolism, maintains the body’s calcium levels (Genao et al., 1996). Calcium is used as a second messenger for hormones, such as auriculin, during heart failure. This means that if the hormone does not do its job, calcium will tell it to “go to work.” Also, calcium ions in the body bind to troponin complex, which is a protein that can be found in cardiac and skeletal muscles. Troponin plays a role in muscle and heart contraction in both humans ad turkeys. When the calcium ion binds to the troponin, the heart can contract and pump blood through it out to the body (Farah & Reinach, 1995). With turkey and human heart failures sharing so many characteristics, using turkeys as a model for studying dilated cardiomyopathy may lead to ground breaking discoveries.

The Meleagris gallopavo, also known as the turkey, and humans share many of the same symptoms of cardiomyopathy [By Riki7 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons].

The Meleagris gallopavo, also known as the turkey, and humans share many of the same symptoms of cardiomyopathy [By Riki7 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons].

Currently, the most common treatments for dilated cardiomyopathy are prescription drugs. Some patients are given Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors to help the heart’s pumping abilities. Others are given diuretics, or water treatments that make the patient urinate more frequently, to keep the fluid from collecting in the body. They especially remove fluid in the lungs, making it easier for the patient to breathe (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2012). Now, with turkeys as an animal model, many more advancements can be made. Since about five percent of the turkey population has dilated cardiomyopathy (Genao et al., 1996) it would be easier to find a large enough sample for multiple tests and trials to be done to develop therapies and other treatments for the disease.

At Wayne State University, Dr. J.P. Jin, professor of physiology, made a groundbreaking discovery in 2010. When he experimented on turkeys with cardiomyopathy he found that when a mutation in troponin I was countered with a mutated form of troponin T (two types of troponin complex proteins) the negative effects of each mutation would cancel each other out. This actually restored the effected turkey’s heart back to its normal condition (“Dr. Jin,” 2010). Virginia Tech. University is currently researching turkeys and cardiomyopathy. They are focusing their research on the biochemical and genomic studies of dilated cardiomyopathy in turkeys. The possibilities are endless; turkeys are giving cardiomyopathy patients, like Linda, another thing to be thankful for.


In Brief:

  • Every four in 10,000 people in the United States have dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes the left ventricle of the heart to become enlarged
  • Turkey hearts can serve as a model for the human heart as it undergoes heart failure and cardiomyopathy because their hearts are very similar
  • Dr. Jin at Wayne State University discovered from the turkey model that by countering a mutated form of cardiac muscle protein with another form of mutated protein, a heart’s normal condition can be restored
  • Turkeys can be used as model organisms to develop new treatments for dilated cardiomyopathy

Works Cited

This article was written by cYw13. As always, before leaving a response to this article please view our Rules of Conduct. Thanks! -cYw Editorial Staff


Author: cYw13

Hello cYw visitors! This is my first year as part of curiousYOUNGwriters and it was been such an exhilarating experience. Through my research I've exposed myself to a whole new realm of science. This article gave me the opportunity to take my prior science knowledge about chemistry and biology, and apply it to a real world problem. As I connected the dots between the disease and animal I was surprised to see just how interconnected we all are to each other and other species. I've learned so much through the research and writing process. Not only have I become a more efficient scientific research, I've also become more passionate about science.With every new discovery I came across my love of science grew. Everyday we strive to understand the world around us and it's mind-blowing how we will never know all of the answers. Among science, my other hobbies include dancing, singing and reading. I hope our articles inspire you as much as they have actuated me to become a better scientist!

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    This was a wonderful and informative article that added a new twist on Thanksgiving for me, as well as other readers I’m sure. Your article taught me many things, ranging from medical equipment to the structure of the heart. This was very interesting to read.

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    This article was very interesting to me personally because I know of someone who died from a similar disease. The parallels between human and turkey hearts seems like an excellent place to start further research in heart diseases. Although it is somewhat unjust to experiment on animals, it would be beneficial to everyone if the experiments on turkeys helped to prevent heart failure, because that is one of the leading causes of death in the world. Overall the new findings of scientists with turkeys is a very great way to help the world, and this article was written beautifully so it kept me interested. It helped me learn a lot of things about the heart I was not aware of.

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    This article is very well written, easy to understand, and fits in nicely time wise, being that Thanksgiving is in a few days! It is fascinating to see how an animal that seems so different from humans on the outside is actually very similar on the inside. Meaning that animals such as the Turkey can help scientists find cures for the various medical challenges humans face today. Continually, in my Research Science class we learned about how Rats and other animals share similar anatomies with humans, and how animals share similar features with other animals. This causes me to wonder, what other animals are affected by Cardiomyopathy? And if so, why do scientists pick Turkeys as the animal for testing instead of any other animals affected by this disease?

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    #curiousYOUNGwriters #Cardiomyopathy #dilatedcardiomyopathy #sciencewriting: I’d say patients that have been diagnosed with Dilated Cardiomyopathy are thankful this Thanksgiving. It is so amazing to see that even when people who have lost all faith can regain it from reading this article. After reading this article and reading about all the discoveries being made to help put an end to this disease, all that concerns me is the discovery made by Dr. J.P. Jin. In the article it is said that his discovery was made in the year 2010. Hello?, Dr.?, it is currently 2013 with 2014 quickly approaching. What ever happened to his discovery? Is he still experimenting on turkeys before he can apply the mutation to humans? When will we see the effects of his discovery take place on the human race?

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    This article is not only fascinating and illuminating, it gives me something to share with my family over the Thanksgiving Dinner table. From the reading, cardiomyopathy seems like a disease that we do not understand very well and is very deadly. I found it astounding that in this day and age, cardiomyopathy still kills 50% of it’s victims. The discovery made by Dr. Jin at Wayne University is simply enthralling. The use of turkeys to help improve medicine and treatments for cardiomyopathy is not only fantastic, but shows how far our medicine has advanced over the years. This relates to our STEM class, as we are learning about how mammalian rats and humans compare, looking at their organ systems up close and hands on. However, this discovery was made in 2010. I would like to know if Dr. Jin has followed up on this discovery, or made any other groundbreaking discoveries involving cardiomyopathy. None the less, I am not only excited for what the future holds in this area, but thankful that in the future, less people will have to suffer from this disease.

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    #curiousYOUNGwriters #STEM I thought that this article was very informative and I never would have thought that turkey’s have any internal organs that are similar to humans. I knew that mice, rats, bunnies, and a few other animals have similar anatomical features to humans, but I never heard of a turkey having a similar heart to a human. I thought that this article was fascinating because I had never heard of Cardiomyopathy and it can be very deadly. I enjoyed learning about Cardiomyopathy and thought this article was very interesting!

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    #curiousYOUNGwriters #Cardiomyopathy #dilatedcardiomyopathy #sciencewriting Firstly, may I say that your article about the turkey being used as the model example of the effects dilated cardiomyopathy has upon the human heart was extremely well written and informative. before reading this article I had had no idea that there was even a disease named dilated cardiomyopathy that effects nearly 4 out of 10,000 United States residents. I was blown away by how many people have dilated cardiomyopathy and especially that 50% of people who are diagnosed with it only have around 5 years to live. Even in our day in age, with an overabundance of technology at our disposal and years of previous medical research, there are still diseases with fatality rates as high as this. However, I would like to ask, since Dr. Jin’s groundbreaking discovery was made in 2010, has there been any more progress in his research? If there has, then what exactly is it? As well as, when is it expected that treatments derived from the testings on turkeys will be available to the population affected by dilated cardimyopathy. Thank You!!

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    This article really made me realize all of the different animals that can cure diseases. We have learned in class about the uses of mice in drug and biomedical research, but I wouldn’t expect a turkey to play such an important in curing a heart disease! This really shows how far we have come in medical research. However, why does the turkey have such a lack of immunity for this disease? Is it from the environment they live in, or another factor? Is it possible for the turkey to shed this weakness through adaptation and evolution?

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    This article really showed the variety of animals that can be used to cure various diseases. We have learned in class about how mice are used in animal testing, but I never knew turkeys would be so prevalent towards the cure for a heart disease! This really shows how far we’ve come in the medical field. However, why does the turkey have such a lack of immunity towards this disease? Is it from the environment they live in, or another factor? Is it possible for them to adapt and shed this weakness?

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    I found this article interesting because two species which are usual thought of as very different, turkeys and humans, actual share a similar trait which makes turkeys useful to human research and medicine. Even though these species are in two different families, raptors and mammals respectively, evolution has given both a common trait. This shows that evolution sometimes takes two paths to get to the same place or one path to go to two final destinations.

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    #curiousyoungwriters How do scientists get from studying turkey’s to developing new prescription drugs? What was the process from point A to point B?

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    #curiousyoungwriters It was interesting to find out that turkeys and humans share many of the same natural chemicals, such as tryptophan and auriculin. I was also wondering if humans shared these same chemicals with many animals or if they only share them with turkeys.

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    We found it interesting that humans have a .04 percent chance of getting cartiyopathy.
    We were wondering if this percentage has increased or decreased over the ten years?

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    It was interesting to find out that humans and Meleagris gallopavo share many of the same natural chemicals, such as tryptophan and auriculin. I was also wondering if if any other animals or species shared similar chemicals or the same chemicals.

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    I found this article fascinating and informative on more levels than one. I found it rather intriguing how the author of this article found so many relations between the human heart as well as the turkey. These relations really opened my eyes to the possibility of further research on the topic. If we can cure certain diseases in turkeys and turkey hearts, then most likely we will be able to cure human heart diseases also.

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    This article accentuates the importance of how all living organisms are truly related. I never thought that turkeys and humans would have something in common other than the Thanksgiving feast. The scientific research that is being conducted will help not only humans, but turkeys as well.

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    #curiousYOUNGwriters#cardiomypathy#STEM Thanks to this article I have learned a great deal about science and in particular the benefits of studying the similarities between human and animal anatomy. It’s amazing to think that an animal so different from a human in physical appearance and intelligence as a turkey could be the solution to a disease as deadly and widespread as cardiomyopathy. This article was very well written and informative and has added onto my interests in this topic. Furthermore, it has caused me to wonder that even if this cure has worked for turkeys will it actually work for humans? And, if so what other animals share diseases and anatomies with humans? Thank you for your article and for something to talk about around the thanksgiving dinner table.

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    #curiousYOUNGwriters #STEM #sciencewriting I found this article really informative. It further opened my eyes to the advancements that scientists can make in the medical and anatomical fields simply by observing and conducting experiments on all different types of animals. What really shocked me was the fact that turkeys and humans have extremely similar hearts considering they make an unlikely pair. It is also astounding to me that the turkeys’ hearts have the same reaction to the effects of a dilated cardiomyopathy that humans’ hearts do. One thing that I have been considering, are than outside variables (exposure to certain ecosystems/environments) that causes or contributes to the development of dilated cardiomyopathy? Also, are scientists continuing the research that the scientist who cured a turkey’s dilated cardiomyopathy was/is conducting?

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