MINNEAPOLIS - There's an unusual and unique lab at the University of Minnesota filled with human and animal hearts. You'll also find experts there who can get a heart beating again.
It's called the Visible Heart Lab.
"We've probably done over 1000 swine hearts," lab director Dr. Paul Anthony Iaizzo said about lab's 14 years of existence. "We've done hearts from other animal species as well and 49 human hearts that we re-animated."
On a Tuesday, Iaizzo reanimated a swine heart.
He said this lab is the only lab in the world that routinely animates hearts, both human and animal, without blood so that students and researchers can see everything working inside a heart.
The human hearts come from organ donors. "Most of the hearts we get are not deemed viable for transplant," Iaizzo said.
But the hearts are highly valuable for research.
The lab gets funding from Medtronic which makes implantable cardiac devices and it tests some of it's cutting edge prototypes.
"In fact one of their number one selling leads we saw their early prototype like 12 years ago," Iaizzo said. "And then we've done a lot of research now with the transcatheter valves that they're working on. And then they announced that they're working on a leadless pacemaker and we've been able to implant these in isolated hearts."
After a heart has been re-animated, it is then preserved and stored in the lab's heart library for future research by students, researchers and professionals.
U of M biomedical engineering Ph.D. student, Julianne Eggum, is using the library for her thesis. "My thesis is focused on the cardiac venous system, so the veins that are on the outside of the heart," Eggum said. "So I use this library for different anatomy studies."
The hearts are also catalogued in the Atlas of Human Cardiac Anatomy, an online database with videos of animated hearts which can be accessed by people from around the world.
Iaizzo said he's re-animated every human heart that has come through the Visible Heart Lab and he's still fascinated at how much there is to learn.
He said with a smile, "Still like every week it's Christmas. There's always something new."
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