For more than two decades the Christchurch Cardioendocrine Research Group has been breaking new ground in understanding the role that heart hormones, such as ANP and BNP, play in heart failure and cardiac disease. However, the function of one heart hormone remained unclear until recently.

Professor Eric Espiner and Dr Tim Prickett have now found that the heart hormone, C-type Natriuretic Peptide (CNP), also acts as a vital signal for skeletal growth at crucial stages in fetal and childhood development.

"This could greatly assist in the early diagnosis and treatment of growth disorders in thousands of children, as well as rare bone disorders," explains Espiner.

"We've shown that CNP is produced at high levels in the fetus and during rapid bone development at birth, then slowly falls as growth rate slows. There's another surge in CNP at puberty, with a new growth spurt and skeletal development."

The key to these findings, and improved diagnosis and treatment, is a special assay, or test, developed by Prickett and Associate Professor Tim Yandle which measures CNP levels in the blood. Internationally, no other research group has achieved this, although many have tried.

It has also been found that CNP production is greatly increased in the fetus and also produced by the placenta, while another study suggests that measuring CNP could be useful to detect stress in the unborn child.

Espiner says this series of results shows how new and unexpected roles for hormones may arise from heart research and reveal findings in other biomedical fields.