They take their first images at two days, during a stage of heart development called cardiac looping. This is when the simple straight tube that's an embryo heart turns clockwise into a helix, forming the beginnings of two atria and two ventricles. They take more images at three days and again at eight days, when the septum, the wall between the left and right sides of the heart, has formed.
Working with Ganga Karunamuni, a pediatrics research associate at the school of medicine, the team is now pursuing a slate of experiments testing the quail heart model's response to alcohol exposure and will also test exposure to mental health drugs called selective serotonin receptor inhibitors. Alone or together, they can alter shear stress.
They are exposing the model to alcohol at a stage called gastrulation, when the embryo changes from two sheets of cells to a multi-layered organism.
This is a critical stage for induction of birth defects, Peterson said. In humans, it's an early stage when a woman may not know that she is pregnant.
Rollins said clinical applications are a long way off but the team has begun talking about possibilities.
"If it became feasible to screen a fetus for abnormal heart function," he said, "it might be possible to intervene with drugs, with gene therapy." Or, by using non-invasive pulses of infrared light to make the heart contract on demand another technology the team is developing with clinical colleagues in Pediatric Cardiology to prevent or treat defects before birth.
|Contact: Kevin Mayhood|
Case Western Reserve University