Discovery

Can we grow a heart?

Stunning images of the developing heart could help us grow one from scratch.

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The brain is the center of our reality, but it's nothing without the heart. A new discovery by English researchers opens the door to greater understanding of how the heart forms.

2.5 billion

The heart beats 100,000 times a day / 35 million times a year / 2.5 billion times during a life.

NOVA

The heart begins as a humble pool of cells.

In a new study published in the journal Science, Oxford University scientists discovered how the heart began to take shape, in unprecedented detail. In the experiment, they looked to mice, specifically the 21-day span from fertilization to birth. 🐁

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This scan was taken on Day 8 in mice — which would be equivalent to 21 days in humans.

At this point, cells are activating certain genes that dictate what part of the heart it will eventually become.

The red arch of cells here is called the cardiac crescent. It will form the heart's four chambers.

If we can learn how heart cells form, we can recreate them in a lab for people who need them, like heart attack survivors.

The cells in green will become cardiomyocytes, or the muscle of the heart.

Those cells in green are already showing slow, rhythmic contractions.

Twelve hours later, the heart starts to look very different...

This is the linear heart tube stage. It has been slowly contracting for several hours, at this point.

Here's a 360-degree view of the cell formation.

Each color here represents a different cell type that will eventually contribute to a whole, functioning heart.

The researchers also identified a new population of cells — the green population of cells here make up what's called the Juxtacardiac Field. Science
These cells, shown in green, will form part of the heart muscle and the outer layer, called the epicardium. Science

The epicardium has shown to be "crucial" for repairing the heart after a heart attack, says Tyser.

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Why map the heart in such detail?

By knowing how cells form, we might be able to grow our own from scratch in the future, like after a heart attack.

"If you understand how it forms in the first place, it can help with that."

-Tyser, the paper's first author.

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