It’s cells within your heart, moving rhythmically like these, that ensure your heart pounds as you open that longed-for Valentine’s card. Heart muscle cells (cardiomyocytes) work together to create the two and a half billion heartbeats it takes to pump blood around our body during a lifetime. They are the body’s natural pacemakers. But if the heart malfunctions, or is damaged by a heart attack they can lose the beat, causing heart conditions called arrhythmia. Artificial pacemakers can help restore rhythm, but in future, the cells pictured might be setting the pace. They are heart stem cells, programmed in the lab to behave like cardiomyocytes. And like cardiomyocytes in the heart, each ‘beat’ is produced as electrical signals fired off between neighbouring cells, keeping them moving as one. Scientists hope that one day, such cells can be moved to get failing hearts back into the beat.
Written by Caroline Cross
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.