Magazine article American Scientist

Tugging at Hearts

Magazine article American Scientist

Tugging at Hearts

Article excerpt

To watch hearts develop, biomedical engineer Jonathan Butcher of Cornell University pioneered a method in 2010 to grow chicken embryos outside of their shells. Since then, his lab members have cracked open thousands of fertilized eggs, carefully placing three-day-old embryos into egg-shaped hammocks made from clear plastic film.

"We needed to be able to transport these embryos between imaging technologies," says Butcher, who studies the embryos until day 10-about half of gestation-imaging them optically (above) as well as with ultrasound and a threedimensional X-ray method called microcomputed tomography.

Butcher's research focuses on the development of heart valves, marvels of evolution's biomechanical engineering that ensure blood flows in only one direction.

"Only about 10 percent of the clinical problems we see in kids born with heart-valve defects have to do with known genetic mutations, so there's a real need to understand what else can bring about these developmental anomalies," Butcher says. …

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