SACKVILLE, NB — Mount Allison University biochemistry student Sam McGaw is spending his summer studying heart health and how the amino acid taurine can improve cardiovascular function.
“Our project is looking at the role taurine plays in supporting heart health, and the impacts that can come with a taurine deficiency, using brook trout as a model,” he explains.
A beta amino-acid, taurine is important in regulating heart function and protecting cardiovascular health. Stored primarily in heart cells, taurine helps control how much blood is pumped throughout the body and how quickly this is done. Natural sources of taurine include fresh seafood, chicken, beef, and eggs. Many individuals can obtain optimal levels through a balanced diet.
McGaw has been measuring heart rate, stroke volume, and cardiac output of fish with taurine deficiencies, induced with specialized food, and those with regular levels. So far, he’s found that taurine levels can have a big impact on heart health and regulating function, a finding that could be important to human cardiovascular health as well.
Working with biochemistry professor Dr. Tyson MacCormack, McGaw was able to measure cardiac parameters by implanting an ultrasonic flow probe and exposing fish to different oxygen levels. This type of equipment and experiment is rarely done at the undergraduate level.
“We know taurine is important to heart health, but we didn’t realize how important until we saw the differences in taurine-deficient fish versus those with normal levels. With a taurine deficiency of even 20 per cent, we’ve seen massive changes in fish heart health,” says MacCormack. “Understanding how taurine improves cardiovascular health will be a key for the development of an effective strategy to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in New Brunswick.”
Previous studies by the World Health Organization have found that Atlantic Canadians have some of the lowest dietary taurine intake and among the highest rate of ischemic heart disease. Research studies like McGaw and MacCormack’s can help to shed insight on this connection and potentially encourage a more holistic look at cardiac health.
“Having this kind of accessibility to high-tech experiments as an undergrad has been incredible,” says McGaw. “I’ve learned so much working on this research project.”
McGaw and MacCormack will be continuing their research program throughout the upcoming school year and plan to publish results in a peer-reviewed journal in the future. Originally from St. Stephen, NB McGaw plans to attend medical school following his degree from Mount Allison.
The research project has received funding support from the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation, the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, and the New Brunswick Heart and Stroke Foundation.