These Are The First Ever Images Of A Heart Injected With Liquid Metal

These Are the First Ever Images of a Heart Injected With Liquid Metal

It may surprise you that, despite our seemingly vast knowledge of the human body, we're still decently in the dark when it comes to the smaller portions of the cardiovascular system. Even more surprising, the answer to that problem isn't lying in more powerful microscopes. It's in a heart pumping pure, shiny liquid metal.

Until now, modern imaging techniques have given us a fantastic understanding of the heart's larger blood vessels, but they've done little to give us a clear view of the innumerable smaller branches these vessels break into. As we stand today, one of the most widely used imaging methods involves filling the vessels with a contrast agent (typically iodine) that absorbs x-rays more than the tissue around it, resulting in an image in which the vessels themselves are very much apparent; the denser the contrast agent, the clearer the image. The only problem is that our current contrast agents carried a pretty limited rate of x-ray absorption — until now, that is.

Researchers at Tsinghua University in Beijing have taken a potentially wildly complicated problem and come up with a (relatively) simple solution by injecting the heart with gallium, a chemically stable metal that melts at about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, it has no problems flowing through the labyrinthine vessels of the heart.

And as the top image (which show a pig's heart injected with gallium on the left and iodine on the right) prove, we are well on our way to a far great understanding of the heart than we've ever had before. The technique was even able to display capillaries a mere .07 millimeters in diameter. Plus, since cooling the metal will freeze it, there's even the opportunity to create anatomically precise moulds that display the structure in 3D.

The next step will be human trials, and the research team is even optimistic that the technique could be used to image actual living human tissue. As Physics arXiv Blog explains:

They point out that gallium is chemically inert and believed to be non-toxic in humans. And they say a small amount of the metal can be injected into the target vessels and sucked out afterwards without leaving a residue.

Of course, getting to that point will take years of research and precautions. But if the scientists' optimism is anything to go by, gallium-pumping hearts may have the potential revolutionise our understanding of our very own selves. [Physics arXiv Blog]

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    Is it magnetic ???. You all know what I'm hinting at.

      There's something different about you today, Mr. Laurio.
      Ah, there it is...
      Too much iron in your blood!

    Very interesting. It's akin to how they have developed increasingly high resolution scans of the brain except for the heart. Don't know much about the heart, but suspect that it is very very important finding and that a lot of benefit will come from it.

    please note the Iodine contrast image shown is a very poor representation of what can be visualised during cardiac catheter examinations.

    The intended purpose of the tests is entirely different.

    Also, the intention of "Sucking out the residue" is likely to meet with total failure, as the gallium will have moved on (if it is able to pass into and through the terminal capillaries.

    I have injected radio-gallium into people over the decades, and at the trace levels used there is never any intention of extracting the substance. (The body treats it as an Iron analogue, and therefore it goes to similar locations in the body as Iron.) However as this technique needs to use a little more than trace levels, there may be some toxicity, or loss of normal function associated...

    Its always good seeing new techniques, I only hope that they fully study the risk-benefits before rolling it out to the general public. Medicine has a history of half-arsed medical treatments entering the public domain, before the realisation that the (side) effects are worse than the original disease in some cases.

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