3-D Maps Zoom in on Heart Stress

Some 36,000 children are born with a heart defect each year in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. Often, scientists don’t know why.

3-D Maps Zoom in on Heart Stress

Now, researchers at Case Western Reserve have created a tool that could help identify the genetic and environmental factors that trigger these abnormalities.

Biomedical engineer Andrew Rollins, PhD, led a team that discovered how to create three-dimensional maps of the stresses placed on a developing heart.

Modifying an imaging technique called Doppler optical coherence tomography (OCT), the researchers created a 3-D image using reflections from an infrared laser, similar to how sonar uses sound waves to detect objects. They’re using the Doppler OCT to map shear stress—the force passing blood cells put on the cells that line a growing heart—which has been linked to changes in gene expression that result in heart defects.

Rollins says alcohol exposure alters shear stress patterns, which in turn influences the signals that play an important role in the development of the heart valves. His team is using the 3-D mapping technology to measure the effects of alcohol and certain mental health drugs on shear stress in an animal model. But eventually, they hope to apply the technique to uncover how alcohol, drugs and other factors trigger birth defects in growing human hearts.