RSNA: Researchers analyze five hearts that are more than 400 years old

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 - heart urns
Lead heart-shaped lead urns unearthed at the excavation site.
Source: Rozenn Colleter, PhD/INRAP

CHICAGO—By using MRI and CT, researchers were able to analyze five preserved human hearts that were more than 400 years old and were found last year at an archeological site.

Lead researcher Fatima-Zohra Mokrane, MD, a radiologist at Rangueil Hospital at the University Hospital of Toulouse in France, and colleagues presented their results at the RSNA annual meeting.

“Study of archeological smooth tissues like heart is possible using CT and MRI, but it requires a good knowledge of the embalming process and MR technical parameters,” they wrote in a study abstract.

In 2014, archaeologists found several grave sites from the late 16 th and early 17 th century in the basement of a church in France and discovered five preserved human hearts.

Researchers obtained clinical images of the hearts using MRI and CT, but they noted in a news release that it was difficult to obtain health information because of the embalming materials used to preserve the heart.

After cleaning the hearts and removing the embalming material, the researchers conducted another CT scan and identified the chambers, valves, coronary arteries and other parts of the heart. They also performed another MRI when the tissue was rehydrated to identify myocardial muscles.

The researchers noted that only one heart could not be studied because it was poorly preserved. However, one heart showed no signs of disease and appeared healthy, while the other three showed signs of disease based on plaque found on the coronary arteries.

“Since four of the five hearts were very well preserved, we were able to see signs of present-day heart conditions, such as plaque and atherosclerosis,” Mokrane said in a news release.