OCT could help prevent, treat CV abnormalities in embryonic hearts

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The use of optical coherence tomography (OCT) can effectively evaluate cardiovascular abnormalities in real-time, high-resolution images, helping researchers evaluate the embryonic heart before it begins beating to help better prevent and treat heart-related problems before birth.

Kirill Larin, PhD, assistant professor of engineering at the Cullen College of Engineering at the University of Houston (UH), and colleagues from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston have begun to analyze the formation of the mammalian heart using OCT. Rather than use of ultrasound which creates grainy images through sound waves, OCT is a non-invasive imaging tool that uses optical contrast and infrared broadband lasers to create real-time video to assess the vasculature.

Currently, Larin and colleagues are evaluating mouse and rat embryos seven days after conception via OCT.

“We are able to capture video of the embryonic heart before it begins beating, and a day later we can see the heart beginning to form in the shape of a tube and see whether or not the chambers are contracting.  Then, we begin to see blood distribution and the heart rate,” said Larin, who has worked to refine the OCT system so that it can image protein biomarkers in the blood to better study tissue samples, pinpointing disease states.

The National Institutes of Health granted $1.7 million for the research project.

According to UH, Larin is working to further alter the OCT technology to help quicken the imaging process and improve resolution.

Future research will continue to look at how gene mutations affect cardiovascular development in newborns, to reduce the number of abnormalities and help to treat them.

“With this technology, we are able to image life as it happens, see the heart beat in a mammal for the very first time,” said Larin.