Washington: Researchers have developed a new 3-D map to pinpoint malformations in an unborn heart and how alcohol, drugs and other factors can cause cardiovascular damage.
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University has begun testing the technology to uncover how several factors set off events that result in defects found in newborn babies.
Passing blood cells drag on the endothelial cells that line the growing heart, a phenomenon called shear stress, which has been linked to changes in gene expression that results in defects, most often in the valves. But precisely how they`re connected is unclear.
"Alcohol exposure may affect shear stress by modulating the heart rate, but it may also involve vigour and/or timing of the contraction," said researcher Andrew Rollins.
"Now that we have the tool, we can start to figure that out," he said.
"We`re analysing early and late development of the heart and trying to make the connections that result in valve dysfunction," said Lindsy M Peterson, lead author.
To look at the structure of the developing heart and blood flow, the researchers modified a technology called Doppler optical coherence tomography (OCT).
Called OCT , they shine an infrared laser on the heart.
The reflections measured at various depths are used to create a three-dimensional image in much the same manner submariners use sonar to picture their surroundings in the deep sea.
However, the researchers add the dimension of time, creating movies of blood flow through the structures, needed to map shear stress.
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.