Scientists Discover the Function of Heart Fibers First Illustrated by Leonardo Da Vinci


Aug 24, 2020


Image Credit: Hitesh Sonar For The Swaddle/International journal of Cardiology

Beyond his fame as a painter, Leonardo da Vinci’s legacy as a genius is also due to his detailed recapturing of the human body in his anatomical drawings. He had a particular interest in the human heart, with his theories of the heart being a four chambered muscle holding true till today.

Now, scientists have further added to his work demystifying the human heart. Five hundred years ago, da Vinci was the first to illustrate trabeculae — an geometric network of muscle fibers that develop on the heart’s inner surface. While trabeculae were thought to oxygenate developing hearts, their function in adult bodies remained a mystery until now. New research published in Nature further elaborates on the importance of myocardial trabeculae in keeping the heart functional and their role in heart disease.

Researchers utilized 25,000 MRI scans of the heart, and further used associated genetic and morphology data to discover the function of trabeculae muscle strands. Results showed that these strands create a rough surface on the heart’s ventricles, which made blood flow fast, but steady rather than disproportionate gushing. The study also found six regions in human DNA that influenced the development of trabeculae. Two of these regions also influenced the branching of nerve cells, which led researchers to wonder if a similar process occurred in the brain.

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More importantly, researchers discovered that the shape of the trabeculae influenced the heart’s performance. This meant that trabeculae could influence heart disease too. An analysis of 50,000 patients’ genetic data via the Mendelian randomization analysis — a means to utilize genetic variation to investigate risk factors and health outcomes — aided their investigation process. Researchers finally concluded and wrote that, “reduced trabecular complexity is causally associated with the risk of heart failure.” This is vital, as further research may help scientists find new means to combat heart disease.

“Da Vinci was also intrigued by the link between maths and nature, so it’s fitting that we found that fractal patterns in the heart are so important for its function,” Dr. Declan O’Regan, lead author and clinical scientist at the Medical Research Council (MRC) London Institute of Medical Sciences, told Telegraph. He added, “This work offers an exciting new direction for understanding the heart and shows the potential for bringing together ideas in maths and biology to medical research.”


Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.


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