Usually, saying a heart is beating out of its chest is just an expression.
For researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Visible Heart Laboratory, however, that phrase has become more literal. One of the lab’s main features is a living, beating pig heart that has been removed from its original body for researchers to better study how it functions. The lab is led by Paul Iaizzo, Ph.D., professor of surgery with the U’s Medical School, and supported by Medtronic Inc. Its research ranges from cellular and tissue studies to those involving whole bodily organs.
Brian Herman, Ph.D., the U’s vice president for research, recently visited the lab to learn more about the work of Iaizzo and his team. Here is a glimpse into the visit:
The Visible Heart Lab features a living pig heart hooked up to equipment that allows it to keep beating.
Paul Iaizzo, Ph.D., principal investigator with the Visible Heart Laboratory, explains to Vice President for Research Brian Herman how the pig heart beats. Meanwhile, doctoral student Alex Mattson uses an ultrasound device to produce a sonogram image of the heart.
Standing in the room where he and his team print 3D models of hearts and other organs, Iaizzo explains how plastic models can guide medical students in their education. The lab can also custom-print models to match current patients’ hearts, allowing U surgeons prepare ahead of time for difficult cardiac surgeries.
Iaizzo discusses specialized equipment that can keep lungs “breathing” for a significant period of time while they await transplantation or use in research. The same equipment can also be used to keep certain other organs alive.