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.”

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Here it is, your heart

The British Heart Foundation has launched a new advertising campaign that features an amazing real-time simulation of a beating heart.

The campaign confronts viewers with the perhaps gory but nevertheless fascinating reality of the most vital of vital organs, and challenges them to think about heart and circulatory disease – Britain’s biggest killer.

British Heart Foundation Director of Policy and Communications, Betty McBride, said, “We wanted to confront people with the reality of what a working heart looks like. This is a rare chance for people to see in incredible detail how it works. We expect people to react in lots of different ways – whether it’s amazed, squeamish or disturbed. It’s vital that we get people to take time to think about their heart health.”

The Virtual Heart Simulator was developed in a collaboration between specialists at The Heart Hospital in London and design agency Glassworks. The British Heart Foundation boasts that this fantastic video represents “the biggest technical advancement since Leonardo da Vinci sketched the heart 500 years ago.”

The campaign advertises the guidance and advice that the British Heart Foundation provides, not least through its Heart Helpline, where cardiac nurses and information officers are on hand 9am-10pm, seven days a week, to provide free confidential information on heart health issues.

The campaign website also features a helpful A-Z of the heart, which explains in plain english cardiology terms such as ‘supraventricular tachycardia’ and ‘cardiomyopathy’.

  • You can call the Heart Helpline on 0300 333 1 333, or alternatively peruse the British Heart Foundation website www.bhf.org.uk for stacks of information on heart health
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British Heart Foundation petition against cigarette machines

The British Heart Foundation has launched a petition to ban the sale of cigarettes from vending machines in the UK. The charity hopes that banishing cigarette vending machines will reduce the number of under 18s who take up smoking.

In the UK you need to be at least 18 years old to buy cigarettes from a shop and, technically, this old to get cigarettes from a vending machine. Vending machines aren’t manned, however, making it easier for under 18s to circumvent this rule and get their hands on cigarettes. 66% of adult smokers started when they were under age, so stopping people from taking up smoking as teenagers is crucial to prevent a livelong addition to cigarettes.

According to the BHF, 6% of children aged 11-15 are regular smokers and as many as one in six of these teenagers buy their cigarettes from cigarette vending machines. A 2007 study reporting on test purchases by young people found that teenagers were able to buy cigarettes from vending machines on more than four in ten occasions, with a number of councils reporting a 100% successful purchase rate. Using vending machines was the most successful way for young people to get hold of cigarettes – almost twice as successful as other ways tested such as purchasing cigarettes from a newsagent, off licence or petrol station kiosk.

Smoking is a leading risk factor for heart disease – of the 114,000 smokers who die as a result of smoking each year in the UK, one in four die from cardiovascular disease. Measures to help people quit smoking, or stop them from smoking in the first place, are thus a key part of the BHF’s strategy.

  • You can help put cigarette vending machines out of order for good by signing the BHF petition here.
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