Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Forgotten Fractals

Function and genetic control of the muscular strands within the heart revealed

23 October 2020

Forgotten Fractals

Five hundred years ago, the artist Leonardo da Vinci sketched the delicate fractal-like network of branching muscles running along the inner surface of the heart, known as trabeculae. He also speculated on their function, suggesting that they might help to warm the blood ahead of its journey around the body. Today, researchers have used artificial intelligence technology to analyse MRI scans of hearts beating within the chests of 25,000 volunteers taking part in the UK Biobank study. They found that trabeculae affect the speed at which electrical signals travel through the heart and create a rough surface inside the heart that traps a thin layer of blood. This ‘blood blanket’ reduces friction between the heart muscle and blood so it flows more efficiently. Certain patterns of trabeculae are linked to heart failure, so understanding more about these unusual structures could lead to new therapies for heart disease in the future.

Read more about this MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences collaborative research here

Written by Kat Arney

Research published in Nature, September 2020

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