Thursday, January 17, 2013

A virtual heart to explain cardiovascular anomalies

With the increasing power of computers, recent years have seen the rise of software models to explain biological phenomena. Computer simulations based on known behavioural patterns may help us gain more insight in how things work and make certain predictions; for example to see whether a novel drug would have a beneficial effect. At the University of Manchester, scientists developed a 3D model of the heart and by doing so discovered how certain cases of heart failure may arise.

To get a digital 3D model, the scientists first made cross-sectional pictures of a sheep's heart. Because they made a lot of pictures, it proved to be possible to stitch them together in order to get a 3D image. That also means that the model that was created by the University of Manchester is based on that of a sheep. Luckily, the structure is quite similar to that of ours. In addition to the 3D structure, the researchers incorporated information about the electrical activity of the heart into their model.

With this electrical activity data, it is possible to see which parts of the heart are properly conducting signals, required to let the heart pump blood into the vessels in synchronized fashion. The heart contains two nodes at which the electrical signals spread across the heart in a way that lets all the cells contract at exactly the right time. However, when the conduction of these signals is faulty, the heart may become arrhythmic. If this gets serious, circulation of the blood may become problematic. One of these forms of arrhythmia is called atrial fibrillation, and this is something the British scientists were interested in.

Using the 3D model of the heart, the researchers managed to find some of the underlying reasons for atrial fibrillation, which is a form of arrhythmia that is present in the atria of the heart. These compartments receive incoming blood from the vessels. It appears that anomalies in some parts of the heart, as well as in parts of the lung vein that leads to the heart, contribute to the development of atrial fibrillation. While this does not give use a cure for this debilitating heart condition, it does reveal that computer models can contribute to our understanding of diseases, possibly giving rise to new angles at which medication can be developed.

No comments:

Post a Comment