Clinical research from the heart

Hot on the heels of Valentine’s day, the British Heart Foundation has announced the winners of their images competition “Reflections of Research,” in which UK scientists funded by the foundation were asked to submit the most striking still and video images of their research.

Winners of the video category are Dr Michael Markl of University of Freiburg, Germany, and Dr Philip Kilner of Imperial College London, and their video of blood flowing through the heart. Concentrate hard and you can see, in red/yellow, blood flowing through the left side of the heart, down the aorta, and into the body as the heart rotates. Blood flowing through the right side of the heart towards the lungs is shown in blue. According to the BBC, in the future doctors may be able to use this type of imaging to help simulate the blood flow in a patient’s heart.

looking-through-the-heartWinners of the picture category were Mathieu-Benoit Voisin and Doris Proebstl from London with their remarkable heart shaped cell stain.

The researchers are studying how white blood cells move from the blood into into damaged tissue to cause inflammation; for example, after a heart attack. They were using using fluorescent pigments to stain two key players in this inflammatory process – pericyte cells from the blood vessel wall (stained red and blue) and collagen (green) – when looking through the microscope they noticed that the cells had arranged themselves into a heart shape.

“Through better understanding of how white blood cells interact with the components of the vessel walls, we hope to identify new avenues to treat conditions that underlie heart and circulatory inflammatory diseases,” said Dr Voisin. “Our research is funded by the British Heart Foundation so we were really delighted to see this heart shaped arrangement of cells appear by chance through the microscope!”

I think my favourite image from the competition is this runner up picture of the muscle fibres in the left ventricle of the heart.

heart stringsThe image, from Dr Patrick Hales at University of Oxford, was generated using diffusion tensor imaging of the heart. This magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique tracks the movement of water molecules through the heart muscle, which reveals how the muscle cells are aligned.

“This technology allows us to model the structure of muscles in the heart in a non-invasive way, and how diseases can cause it to change,” said Dr Hales. “In the future, we hope that our research might be able to determine how the structure of the heart is damaged during a heart attack, and how the muscle fibres respond.

“We also hope that our computer models of individual hearts will one day be used as a tool for diagnosis, and could even provide patient-specific assessment of treatment options. Imagine your doctor trying out treatments on a ‘virtual’ version of you, before choosing the right prescription.”

You may also like

Leave a Reply