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How Heart Attacks Affect Vascular Tissues

Researchers harness big data to image damage to tiny blood vessels in 3-D.

Valerie Brown, Contributor
Friday, February 9, 2018


Heart attacks don’t damage just the aorta and arteries; they can also cause circulatory alterations in the tiny blood vessels branching out from the aorta. In a January paper in Scientific Reports, a team of researchers from Spain and the United States reports on a complex method to get a close look at what happens to the microvascular system when the heart seizes up.

The team took slices of cardiac tissue from pigs that had suffered induced heart attacks, stained them, and examined them with confocal microscopy. They built a 3-D digital model of the heart vasculature, detailing the features of its smallest veins, arteries and capillaries. Due to the huge amount of data collected, the researchers had to devise their own software, including fractal metrics and machine learning algorithms, to extract the geometry, topology, intercellular relationships, and diffusion efficiency of the vasculature.

Using this method, the researchers identified numerous heart attack effects that can develop over days. For example, because blood could no longer flow smoothly through the microvasculature, and the volume and connectivity of the blood vessels decreased, oxygen distribution also declined. Inflammation of the vessels was immediately apparent, and the microvasculature actually tried to repair itself, but the team observed a probable time window around three days after the infarction in which therapeutic intervention might be most effective. After that window the tissues began to degrade.

The researchers have made their software open-source and expect their analytical method to be applied not only in diagnosing and treating heart disease but in any other condition for which microscopic blood circulation is a factor.

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