Researchers at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute have found a protein called TOR that has links to heart disease.

It has been found that protein TOR is involved in growth, metabolism and lifespan. It also keeps a check on an enzyme that breaks down fats. During a test on obese flies, it was discovered that the protein protected the hearts from damage caused by high-fat diets. Researchers kept flies on a high fat diet of coconut oil to make them obese. The flies developed many obesity related complication similar to humans including heart dysfunction.

To determine how the protein regulates fat and hence functioning of the heart, the researchers generated flies that lowered this protein's activity. By checking TOR (or boosting the fat-digesting enzyme), the researchers succeeded in reducing fat accumulation in the heart. The obese flies became healthier with improved cardiac health.

Dr. Sean Oldham, co-senior author of the study said, “"We noticed previously that reducing TOR had a large number of beneficial effects on aging,". Explaining further he said, "We next wanted to look at TOR activity in obesity-related heart disease, but we didn't have a good system. In this study, we establish the fruit fly as a model for obesity caused by a high-fat diet."

According to the researchers the fruit flies were ideal for studying the heart because of their similar basic molecular mechanisms with vertebrates.

Rolf Bodmer, Ph.D, co-senior author of the study and professor and director of the Development and Aging Program said, “These results open the possibility that we can intervene with the effects of obesity by targeting TOR and other proteins it regulates -- either directly in fat or in a specific organ like the heart," .