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Scientists Discover Protein Partners that Could Heal Heart Muscle

A protein that helps make neurons also works to reprogram scar tissue cells into heart muscle cells, especially in partnership with a second protein, according to a study led by Li Qian, PhD, at the UNC School of Medicine.



A protein that helps make neurons also works to reprogram scar tissue cells into heart muscle cells, especially in partnership with a second protein, according to a study led by Li Qian, PhD, at the UNC School of Medicine.
Credit: Qian Lab, UNC School of Medicine
Human fibroblasts reprogrammed into cardiomyocyte-like cells. Immunofluorescence shows different molecules: DNA (blue), cardiac Troponin T (orange) and αActinin (green).
« Scientists Discover Protein Partners that Could Heal Heart Muscle

Newswise — CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Scientists at the UNC School of Medicine have made a significant advance in the promising field of cellular reprogramming and organ regeneration, and the discovery could play a major role in future medicines to heal damaged hearts.

In a study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill discovered a more streamlined and efficient method for reprogramming scar tissue cells (fibroblasts) to become healthy heart muscle cells (cardiomyocytes). Fibroblasts produce the fibrous, stiff tissue that contributes to heart failure after a heart attack or because of heart disease. Turning fibroblasts into cardiomyocytes is being investigated as a potential future strategy for treating or even someday curing this common and deadly condition.

Surprisingly, the key to the new cardiomyocyte-making technique turned out to be a gene activity-controlling protein called Ascl1, which is known to be a crucial protein involved in turning fibroblasts into neurons. Researchers had thought Ascl1 was neuron-specific.

“It’s an outside-the-box finding, and we expect it to be useful in developing future cardiac therapies and potentially other kinds of therapeutic cellular reprogramming,” said study senior author Li Qian, PhD, associate professor in the UNC Department of Pathology and Lab Medicine and associate director of the McAllister Heart Institute at UNC School of Medicine.

Scientists over the last 15 years have developed various techniques to reprogram adult cells to become stem cells, then to induce those stem cells to become adult cells of some other type. More recently, scientists have been finding ways to do this reprogramming more directly – straight from one mature cell type to another. The hope has been that when these methods are made maximally safe, effective, and efficient, doctors will be able to use a simple injection into patients to reprogram harm-causing cells into beneficial ones.

“Reprogramming fibroblasts has long been one of the important goals in the field,” Qian said. “Fibroblast over-activity underlies many major diseases and conditions including heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, liver disease, kidney disease, and the scar-like brain damage that occurs after strokes.”

In the new study, Qian’s team, including co-first-authors Haofei Wang, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher, and MD/PhD student Benjamin Keepers, used three existing techniques to reprogram mouse fibroblasts into cardiomyocytes, liver cells, and neurons. Their aim was to catalogue and compare the changes in cells’ gene activity patterns and gene-activity regulation factors during these three distinct reprogrammings.

Unexpectedly, the researchers found that the reprogramming of fibroblasts into neurons activated a set of cardiomyocyte genes. Soon they determined that this activation was due to Ascl1, one of the master-programmer “transcription factor” proteins that had been used to make the neurons.

Since Ascl1 activated cardiomyocyte genes, the researchers added it to the three-transcription-factor cocktail they had been using for making cardiomyocytes, to see what would happen. They were astonished to find that it dramatically increased the efficiency of reprogramming – the proportion of successfully reprogrammed cells – by more than ten times. In fact, they found that they could now dispense with two of the three factors from their original cocktail, retaining only Ascl1 and another transcription factor called Mef2c.

In further experiments they found evidence that Ascl1 on its own activates both neuron and cardiomyocyte genes, but it shifts away from the pro-neuron role when accompanied by Mef2c. In synergy with Mef2c, Ascl1 switches on a broad set of cardiomyocyte genes.

“Ascl1 and Mef2c work together to exert pro-cardiomyocyte effects that neither factor alone exerts, making for a potent reprogramming cocktail,” Qian said.

The results show that the major transcription factors used in direct cellular reprogramming aren’t necessarily exclusive to one targeted cell type.

Perhaps more importantly, they represent another step on the path towards future cell-reprogramming therapies for major disorders. Qian says that she and her team hope to make a two-in-one synthetic protein that contains the effective bits of both Ascl1 and Mef2c, and could be injected into failing hearts to mend them.

“Cross-lineage Potential of Ascl1 Uncovered by Comparing Diverse Reprogramming Regulatomes” was co-authored by Haofei Wang, Benjamin Keepers, Yunzhe Qian, Yifang Xie, Marazzano Colon, Jiandong Liu, and Li Qian.

Funding was provided by the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health (T32HL069768, F30HL154659, R35HL155656, R01HL139976, R01HL139880).

Source:  University of North Carolina School of Medicine

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The Bob Woodruff Foundation Announces Third Annual Veterans Classic To Support Mental Health Initiatives

Event includes golf, pickleball, and a celebration of our veterans



WESTHAMPTON, N.Y. /PRNewswire/ –The Bob Woodruff Foundation is thrilled to announce the third annual Veterans Classic will take place at the Westhampton Country Club on Monday, May 20 beginning at 10:30 am. In addition to the golf tournament, guests will have the opportunity to participate in a pickleball clinic as part of the afternoon’s events. The Veterans Classic also includes brunch, dinner, cocktails, and an awards ceremony. The Patriot Parachute Team will jump in at 11:30 a.m., kicking off the day’s events. Proceeds from the event benefit Bob Woodruff Foundation’s work in mental health for the military and veteran community and their families. Additional information, including registration details, can be found at bobwoodrufffoundation.org/event/veterans-golf-classic.

“We’re kicking off the summer in the best possible way, by gathering on the greens to play golf with some of our favorite people and veterans,” said Anne Marie Dougherty, CEO of the Bob Woodruff Foundation. “The Bob Woodruff Foundation Veterans Golf Classic will raise awareness that helps strengthen communities and support the health and well-being of veterans and military families. We look forward to this event as we remember and honor those who served while working to ensure that our service members and vets—of today and tomorrow—have everything they need to thrive.”

The Patriot Parachute Team, a veteran-owned and operated company, will return for an exciting skydiving performance. This year, the pros will be joined by two guests that won the opportunity to join the team at last year’s event. The Patriot Parachute Team performs around the nation to inspire the next generation of patriots and raise awareness for veteran causes to include transitioning from active duty to civilian.

“They say golf is a good walk spoiled,” said Bob Woodruff, ABC correspondent and Foundation co-founder. “I say our Veterans Golf Classic is a good time to talk about one of the most important issues facing military families: kids’ mental health. In 2023, we committed $1 million in support of military children’s mental health. We met that goal and are continuing to support our grant partners who bring clinical and therapeutic expertise to this area.”

Proceeds from this year’s Veterans Classic will support mental health initiatives for veterans, with a focus on military children’s mental health. Approximately 20% of veterans experience mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe depression, and anxiety. While the Veterans Association (VA) provides quality care for veterans, only 60% of veterans were eligible for VA care, with roughly half using their benefits, as of 2016. The Bob Woodruff Foundation helps to bridge the gap by funding programs that increase availability and access to high-quality mental healthcare.

For military children, mental health is at a crisis point. Blue Star Families’ Military Family Lifestyle Survey found that 43% of active-duty families rated at least one of their children’s mental health as “fair,” “poor,” or “very poor.” To increase access to quality care, the Bob Woodruff Foundation makes investments in initiatives that provide mentorship opportunities to bolster military-connected children’s social support and emotional wellbeing, train clinicians so they are better equipped to serve children, and cover treatment costs that are ineligible for or not fully covered by insurance.

Golf has also proven to be beneficial for mental health. This physical activity can be effective in improving mild-moderate depression, reducing anxiety, improving confidence, and boosting self-esteem. Golf also offers an opportunity for socialization and building community, something veterans can experience a major loss of when transitioning out of the military.

Last year’s Veterans Classic more than $400,000 to support the Foundation’s mission to ensure that our nation’s veterans, service members, and their families have stable and successful futures. Since 2006, the Foundation has invested more than $159 million to help make sure they have successful futures. The event takes place ahead of Memorial Day, the federal holiday mourning the US military service members who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

For the Veterans Classic, foursomes are $10,000. Hole sponsorships are available and include signage recognition and two dinner tickets for $1,000 per hole. Individual playing spots are available for $2,500, and those players will be paired with a group. Caddies are included. For more information, including registration, please contact Dave Woodruff at dave.woodruff@bobwoodrufffoundation.org.

The Bob Woodruff Foundation was founded in 2006 after reporter Bob Woodruff was wounded by a roadside bomb while covering the war in Iraq. Since then, the Bob Woodruff Foundation has raised awareness about the tough challenges veterans and military families are facing, and invested in solutions to help support them in the next chapter of their lives. To date, the Bob Woodruff Foundation has invested over $159 million to ensure that our nation’s veterans, service members, and their families — those who stood for us — have stable and successful futures. Visit the Bob Woodruff Foundation for more information.

SOURCE Bob Woodruff Foundation

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health and wellness

CVS Health survey shows mental health concerns continue to rise

Mental health concerns higher than during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the effects of social media a driving factor



WOONSOCKET, R.I. /PRNewswire/ — A recent CVS Health® (NYSE: CVS)/Morning Consult survey found that a majority of adults have significant concerns about their mental health and rates across the country continue to rise.

Concerns higher than during COVID-19 pandemic, with the effects of social media a driving factor
Image provided by CVS Health
  • Two-thirds (65%) of adults have experienced concerns about their own mental health or the mental health of their friends and family, which is up six percentage points from 2022 and 15 percentage points from 2020.
  • About eight in 10 adults (77%) are concerned about mental health in the country, viewing it as a top concern in line with issues such as the economy (81%).
  • Seventy percent of parents are concerned about their children’s mental health, which is higher than their concerns about their children’s physical health (66%).
  • Respondents are likely to turn to both mental well-being apps (48%) and therapists (55%) for care.

“Mental health became a top concern in 2020 and it has only risen since,” said Taft Parsons III, M.D., Vice President and Chief Psychiatric Officer, CVS Health. “Uncertainty around the future, current events and social media continue to drive anxiety among adults. Our priority, across CVS Health, remains improving access to quality virtual and in-person mental health care and ensuring we have resources in place to address the unique needs of individuals.”

Americans are concerned about social media’s implications on their mental health

The survey also found that nearly four in 10 adults (37%) believe social media has hurt society at-large.

  • As a result, a third of adults have started to turn off notifications for social media apps and are attempting to spend less time on social media.
  • About half of parents feel that social media is impacting their children’s perceptions of the world and their children’s development.
  • On the other hand, more than one in three adults (36%) report that social media has taught them about mental health issues.

“Our increasing use of technology has helped increase access to mental health care – CVS Health has had over 43 million mental health virtual visits since 2020 – and created a way for people to talk openly about the topic, reducing stigma,” added Parsons III. “But as we navigate the impacts social media has on mental health, it has become increasingly important that we highlight its limitations and set guardrails for ourselves and our children.”

CVS Health’s commitment to mental health care

As the leading health solutions company with resources that expand nationally and in communities across the country, CVS Health continues to increase accessibility to both in-person and virtual mental health services:

  • In select states, consumers have access to in-person and virtual mental health services at MinuteClinic®. Approximately 78% of patients report a reduction in their depression symptoms1.
  • MinuteClinic offers depression screenings virtually and in all MinuteClinic locations.
  • CVS Health launched Be Seen Be Heard to increase depression screenings among underserved communities.
  • In April, as part of its Centering Youth Mental Health program, the CVS Health Foundation awarded grants to the Greater Flint Health Coalition, Kentucky Youth Advocates and Reinvent South Stockton Coalition to support their work to provide accessible adolescent and young adult mental health services.
  • Project Health includes depression screenings at all their events.
  • Resources for Living (RFL) takes a comprehensive, preventive approach to members’ mental health, improving patient access and driving cost savings, including total medical costs, prescription costs, hospital services and in-network care utilization.
  • As part of its focus on reducing suicide attempts among Aetna members, CVS Health has seen a 16% reduction in suicide attempts among Aetna adult Commercial members when compared with a 2019 baseline.
  • CVS Healthspire™:
    • Signify Health® screens individuals for depression in every In-Home Health Evaluation visit.
    • At Oak Street Health®, patients are able to schedule both behavioral and physical health appointments.
  • CVS Health offers a number of mental health resources and guides on CVSHealth.com, including a resource center focused on the unique mental health needs of different populations – from the LGBTQ+ community to young adults to parents and caregivers.
  • As part of the Beauty Mark initiative, CVS Health promotes healthier self-image and positive mental well-being by not materially altering the beauty imagery created for stores, marketing materials, websites, apps or social media.

For more information on how CVS Health is making mental well-being services more accessible, less complicated and more convenient, visit CVSHealth.com.


This poll was conducted by Morning Consult between March 19-21, 2024, among a national sample of 2,202 adults. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus two percentage points. The interviews were conducted online and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample of adults based on age, gender, educational attainment, race, and region.

  1. Measured via PHQ-9 scores for patients who have completed more than one visit and reported having at least mild depression symptoms in their initial visit. Percentages do not add up to 100% due to rounding.

About CVS Health
CVS Health® is the leading health solutions company, delivering care like no one else can. We reach more people and improve the health of communities across America through our local presence, digital channels and over 300,000 dedicated colleagues – including more than 40,000 physicians, pharmacists, nurses and nurse practitioners. Wherever and whenever people need us, we help them with their health – whether that’s managing chronic diseases, staying compliant with their medications or accessing affordable health and wellness services in the most convenient ways. We help people navigate the health care system – and their personal health care – by improving access, lowering costs and being a trusted partner for every meaningful moment of health. And we do it all with heart, each and every day. Follow @CVSHealth on social media.

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WebHealthAI: Matching Consumers to Doctors for Personalized Healthcare – Empowering Individuals to Make Informed Decisions

WebHealthAI: Connects users with specialized doctors, saves time, provides accurate info, empowers informed healthcare decisions. A gamechanger in the industry



One of the key features that sets WebHealthAI apart from other healthcare AI tools is its ability to match consumers to doctors. By analyzing a user’s medical inquiries and health data, WebHealthAI can recommend doctors who specialize in the specific area of concern. This not only saves users time and effort in searching for appropriate healthcare professionals but also ensures that they are connected with the most relevant expertise.

WebHealthAI’s success in the healthcare marketplace can be attributed to its user-friendly interface and its dedication to addressing the specific needs of both consumers and caregivers. The platform’s intuitive design and easy navigation make it accessible to people of all ages, while its accurate and reliable medical information instills confidence in its users.

To maintain the highest standard of healthcare information, WebHealthAI collaborates with medical professionals and institutions to ensure that its database is up to date and accurate. This commitment to quality reflects WebHealthAI’s belief in the importance of providing accurate and reliable information to its users.

One of the most notable success stories of WebHealthAI is its impact on rural communities. In areas where access to healthcare can be limited, WebHealthAI has become an invaluable resource, providing remote users with access to medical advice and recommendations that they might not otherwise have. This has not only improved the healthcare outcomes for these individuals but has also alleviated the burden on local healthcare infrastructure.

Looking ahead, WebHealthAI has plans to expand its offerings, including the development of a mobile application for even greater accessibility. The team behind WebHealthAI is continuously working on enhancing the platform’s capabilities, with a focus on incorporating emerging technologies such as natural language processing and machine learning to further improve the accuracy and usability of the tool.

As more and more individuals recognize the potential of AI in healthcare, it is clear that WebHealthAI is at the forefront of empowering people to make informed decisions about their health. With its rapid growth and user base expansion, WebHealthAI is positioning itself as a gamechanger in the healthcare industry, revolutionizing the way people access and engage with healthcare information and services.


About WebHealth Network Media

WebHealth Network Media (WHNM) is a prominent healthcare publisher, aggregator, and digital media vendor. With over 25 specialized healthcare brands and websites covering various healthcare topics, WHNM offers premium content tailored for both healthcare professionals and consumers. Leveraging its first-party data obtained from these sites, WHNM executes highly effective digital media campaigns, precisely targeting healthcare professionals and consumers. Specializing in Display, Video, Connected TV, Audio, Email, eNewsletter, and Content Syndication campaigns, WHNM delivers impactful advertising solutions across multiple channels.

Source: WebHealth Network Media


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