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New 3D Images Let Doctors See What Causes an Irregular Heartbeat

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A healthy heart beats evenly as a metronome, sending oxygen-rich blood to your organs and appendages. But if your ticker's rhythm isn't so even, it can lead to fibrillation—rapid, unsynchronized contraction of the muscles that impedes the delivery of blood around the body.

However, scientists at the University of Manchester have developed a new technique that allows them to capture 3D images of the heart. Image which they hope to glean insights from to prevent this from happening in the future.

A normal heartbeat is achieved through a cooperation of the muscle tissue that pumps the blood and the conducting tissue that works like a jumper cable to send the electric wave to cue the beat. Previously, scientists weren't able to produce images of the conducting tissue in high enough resolution, meaning they couldn't get a full grasp on the problem.


This new technology is going to let them get a look at the entire system so they can identify the cause of an abnormal heartbeat.

To render the images, researchers used a micro CT scanner to examine iodine-treated hearts. They found that the conducting parts didn't absorb iodine as much as the muscular parts, helping them parse out the source of the electricity that shocks the heart into action.


It's only a first step, but it could lay the groundwork for more accurate computer models of the cardiovascular muscle. These models could work as a map, showing doctors the source of an irregular heartbeat. Ultimately, that would lead to better treatment of heart disease. For example, in heart surgeries, one of the challenges is avoiding harm to the parts that generate electricity. But if a doctor can see exactly which tissues those are, they can do a better job fixing one of the this key organs. [Medical Xpress]

Image credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki/Shutterstock