Who would have guessed astrophysics could save lives? But it’s true. Planetary geologists studying how molten metal coagulates at the center of planets while they are forming have discovered that their research can also be used to investigate blood flow in the human heart. Using the methods developed by astrophysicists, surgeons were able to find the location of a potentially life-threatening blood clot in a patient’s heart.
Planetary geologists use sophisticated computer modeling to explore the flow of liquid metal through rocks. Using the same type of model, the scientists were able to show doctors in the UK where the patient’s blood was gathering in a pool in their heart due to a blood clot. Doctors confirmed the clot and successfully treated the patient.
The researchers now hope to conduct more detailed clinical studies on the technique to see if it could be used routinely as a way of identifying dangerous blood clots in heart patients.
Professor Nick Petford, a geologist at Bournemouth University, who led the research, said, “We were examining how liquid metal accumulates in the core of a planet like the Earth over just a few million years, which is quite fast in geological terms. The metal flows through cracks and fissures that open up in the rock as the planet is deformed by impacts from outer space during its early period.”
Petford said he and his colleagues by chance were talking with clinicians at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital, and found commonalities in that the vascular system was just like the cracks and fissures they were studying in meteorite samples. “We were able to look at blood flow in the same way we looked at the flow of metal,” he said.
The technology uses a computer to scan images of cracks in a meteorite or arteries in the heart to produce an accurate simulation of how liquid will flow through them.
Petford worked with radiologist Dr. Roger Patel to use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of a patient’s heart to analyze the blood flow.
Surgeons already suspected there was an area of stagnant blood that could cause a blood clot but could not be sure where. By scanning the images from the MRI scan into the computer simulation, the researchers were able to predict the clot’s location.
Professor Petford said: “All vascular systems are different so previous attempts to model the heart don’t give information on what is going on in that individual patient, particularly if their heart is irregular or deformed in some way.
“By using real MRI scans we are able to produce an exact replica of what is going on in the patient’s body.”
Doctors now hope the technology can be developed so it can be used routinely to analyze scans from heart patients. “We are hoping to improve the model over the next few years and perhaps have a technique that can be used alongside scans in the next five to ten years,” said Patel.
Heart disease is the UK’s biggest killer and accounts for around 200,000 deaths each year, and in the US, the someone dies from the disease every 34 seconds.
Source: The Telegraph
Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today’s Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT’s Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is the author of the new book “Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos.” She is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.