The video of the embryonic heart before it begins beating has been captured by a University of Houston professor.
In collaboration with scientists at Baylor College of Medicine, Kirill Larin is documenting the formation of the mammalian heart through a high-resolution, non-invasive imaging device, providing perhaps the best live imagery taken of the vital organ.
"Everything we know about early development of the heart and formation of the vasculature system comes from in vitro studies of fixed tissue samples or studies of amphibian and fish embryos. With this technology, we are able to image life as it happens, see the heart beat in a mammal for the very first time," said Larin.
Using optical-coherence tomography (OCT), a technique that relies on a depth-resolved analysis created by the reflection of an infrared laser beam off an object, the researchers are using the technique to study what leads to cardiovascular abnormalities.
"We are using OCT to image mouse and rat embryos, looking at video taken about seven days after conception, out of a 20-day typical mammalian pregnancy. This way, we are able to capture video of the embryonic heart before it begins beating, and a day later we can see the heart beginning to form in the shape of a tube and see whether or not the chambers are contracting. Then, we begin to see blood distribution and the heart rate," said Larin.
Larin is planning to modify the device not only to improve the resolution but also speed the imaging process to further the study of developmental processes in animals with known heart abnormalities.
Larin said that with these higher speeds and increased resolution, they would be able to observe the dynamics, what factors into the formation of the heart and what causes developmental problems.
The researchers aim to discover how different gene mutations affect cardiovascular development and reduce the number of babies born with abnormities, as well as shed light on how to prevent nd treat heart-related problems before birth.