By combining scans of healthy fetuses in the womb, including that of a woman who agreed to weekly electrocardiography scans starting at 18 weeks gestation until just prior to delivery, a team of UK-based researchers have created a 3D computerized model of the activity and architecture of human heart development. Their findings were published Thursday in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface Focus. According to a University of Leeds release:
Although [researchers] saw four clearly defined chambers in the foetal heart from the eighth week of pregnancy, they did not find organised muscle tissue until the 20th week, much later than expected.
Developing an accurate, computerised simulation of the foetal heart is critical to understanding normal heart development in the womb and, eventually, to opening new ways of detecting and dealing with some functional abnormalities early in pregnancy.
The above image shows an MRI scan of the heart of a 139-day-old fetus as seen from the top, with the muscle cells highlighted in red. An accompanying video illustrates fetal hearts at different stages of gestation.
Photo by University of Leeds