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Matters Of The Heart, Scientifically Speaking

This Valentine's Day, the National Science Foundation gives you a piece of our heart ... related research.

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How can you mend a broken heart?


With a custom-made, 3D printed heart transplant. NSF-funded researchers from Carnegie Mellon University are working with hydrogels and living cells to “bioprint” a fully-functioning heart. The technology could be a live-saver for people in need of heart transplants.

Groove is in the heart

"Apikal4D" by Kjetil Lenes - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA http://3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

To design better heart replacement valves, NSF-funded researchers study the mechanics of heart formation in chickens (their hearts develop similarly to human ones). They found that rhythmic cardiac beating plays a crucial role in forming infant hearts.

Total non-eclipse of the heart

Ding Ye, Fang Lin, The University of Iowa / Via

Your heart wasn’t always a sophisticated, multi-chambered organ. During the embryonic period, it starts off as a primitive heart tube. To study how this tube forms, scientists use zebrafish. The fish are widely used in research on vertebrate development and genetics, and have transparent embryos, so scientists can actually watch their hearts form (shown here is a zebrafish heart 30 hours post-fertilization). The research can help us better understand human heart formation and the consequences of severe heart defects.

Making sure your heart will go on


Bendable, stretchable electronics may be the future of arrhythmia – irregular heartbeat – treatment. A snug-fitting “electronic sock” could keep electronics in contact with heart tissue, detecting and preventing arrhythmia in a non-invasive way.

Achy, Snake-y Heart

NSF / Via

Snakes can rapidly increase the size of their hearts. The reptiles aren’t swelling up with love, however, but with food. An expanding heart – and digestive tract – allows snakes to quickly digest big meals. They can eat more than 100 percent of their body weight in a single feeding. Research on snake diet and biology will help us better understand reptile evolution and predator-prey relationships.

Delivering drugs to keep you young at heart

Research: Shaolie Hossain, Thomas http://J.R. Hughes, Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin. animation: Ben Urick, Jo Wozniak, Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), Erik Zumalt and Juan Diaz, Faculty Inn / Via

Math and computer science are working together to keep your heart healthy. NSF-funded researchers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center used mathematical modeling and 3D computational methods to develop a local drug delivery system, where nanoparticles serve as tiny drug carriers, delivering live-saving medicine to areas vulnerable to plaque and clots.

Heart of gold

Alchemist-hp / Via

Early detection of heart attacks can be key to saving lives. Some engineers are working to build a better detector with another Valentine’s Day staple: gold. They designed a heart attack test strip made of a special type of gold nanoparticles, which is much more sensitive than previous test strips.