Embryonic Heart Flow

Congenital heart defects remain the most common birth defect in humans, occurring in over 1% of live births. The high prevalence of cardiac malformations can be partially attributed to limited knowledge regarding the embryonic roots of the disease. A variety of congenital heart defects are thought to arise from combinations of genetic and epigenetic factors. In an effort to better understand this dynamic relationship, our group performed extensive studies on the structure and function of the developing heart and valves to identify epigenetic factors influencing heart development. 

Using novel high-speed line scanning confocal microscopy and four-dimensional visualization techniques, a dynamic four-dimensional dataset showing heart development along with blood flow patterns throughout cardiac morphogenesis was assembled. Based on this data set, we were able to propose a novel pumping mechanism in the valveless embryonic heart tube via elastic wave propagation and reflection (i.e., an impedance pump). Further studies investigated how this pumping mechanism leads to flow patterns that guide later stages of cardiac development.

Our work was highlighted on the cover of Nature in January 2003!