Updated: Thursday, 14th November 2019 @ 1:54pm

'Good match with humans': Manchester scientists unveil key to preventing strokes... virtual sheep hearts

'Good match with humans': Manchester scientists unveil key to preventing strokes... virtual sheep hearts

By Phil Jones

A digitally reconstructed sheep heart may hold the key to treating one of the world’s most common heart conditions, according to University of Manchester research.

Atrial fibrillation causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heartbeat, potentially leading to heart failure, and is known to increase the risk and severity of stroke.

But help may be at hand from Professor Henggui Zhang, who led research to create a virtual sheep heart and investigate the condition’s cause.

“The current treatment of atrial fibrillation is unsatisfactory because of a lack of knowledge of the causes,” he said.

“We hoped our model would allow us to understand the mechanisms of this condition to ultimately help create better treatments.”


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Approximately 1.5% of the world’s population suffer from atrial fibrillation, reaching 10% in those over 75, that is over 500,000 sufferers in the UK.

The research found regional differences in the electrical activity across the heart tissue, known as electrical heterogeneity, are key to the initiation of atrial fibrillation.

Using the model allowed individual identification of the roles of electrical heterogeneity and fibre structure in atrial fibrillation’s initiation, much to Professor Zhang’s delight.

“We’re really excited about the potential that our virtual heart opens up for research into this incredibly complex organ,” he added.

“By bringing together physics and biology we hope to unlock some of the unanswered questions about atrial fibrillation – a condition which is only going to become more common as people live longer.”

Researchers at the school of physics and astronomy used cutting-edge technology to build the anatomically correct advanced computational model.

Very thin slices of a sheep heart were imaged in 2D before they were compiled, using a computer programme, to render a 3D heart reconstruction.

A sheep heart was used due to the ethical complications of attaining a healthy human heart, but Professor Zhang insisted that was no matter.

“Sheep hearts are a good match with human hearts, they are very similar, they are both from larger mammals and are of a similar size to human hearts,” he added.

Picture courtesy of redshoes_nz, with thanks

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