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Researchers find out how a baby’s heart develops

London: In a breakthrough, researchers have found that the major structure of a foetal heart forms in just four days, a finding that can help doctors to intervene when a baby’s heart fails to grow properly — the major reason behind one in 10 miscarriages.

The phase when the four chambers of the heart develop started between the 16 and 17 week point, precisely at 124 days into pregnancy.

The findings could be adapted for use in hospital clinics, allowing clinicians to spot whether a baby’s heart is failing to form properly, the researchers said.

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“We have identified a critical time of development of the human heart in pregnancy. We now have a map that we can use to interpret problems during development and look at ways of trying to resolve those problems,” said lead author Eleftheria Pervolaraki from Britain’s University of Leeds.

For the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, the team involved the imaging of 23 foetal hearts with a gestational age range of 95 to 143 days in the womb.

Using MRI technology, specifically-written algorithms and three-dimensional (3-D) computer software the researchers found that the most remarkable changes occurred over a four-day period 124 days into the pregnancy.

During the critical four-day period, levels of two proteins, connexin 40 and connexin 43, also showed an increase.

“The expression of connexin 40 and connexin 43 helps cells in the heart to communicate with each other,” noted James Dachtler from Durham University.

“As the amount of these proteins increases, cells can ‘speak’ to each other more effectively, which is why we believe we observed this structural development of the heart,” Dachtler said.

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