The upper chambers of the heart (the atria) are crucial compartments in our body’s blood-pumping device. Electrical signals fired off within their walls drive each heartbeat, pumping blood through the heart and onwards around the body. Physicists and biologists keen to understand what happens when the heart misfires in a common heart condition called atrial fibrilation (AF) have built a virtual heart to test the ‘circuits’. Using computer programming, the team welded together thousands of images of slices through a sheep’s heart to build a 3D replica of the atria (pictured). Multi-coloured flecks show how muscle fibres arrange within the atrial walls. To mimic AF, scientists sent simulated erratic electrical signals through the mock-up. They found that where complex fibres around the pulmonary vein (opening on upper right hand side), connect with neatly aligned fibres below, electrical signals struggle to flow, leading them to the faults caused by AF.
Written by Caroline Cross
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