Imperial makes breakthrough in heart nanoscopy

Scientists at Imperial College London said they’ve developed a nanoscale scanning technique that could lead to improvements in treatment for heart failure.

The study, published in Science, and funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Leducq Foundation, shows how researchers used live nanoscale microscopy to examine individual parts of the heart muscle in great detail.

The technique – called scanning ion conductance microscopy (SICM) produces an image of the surface of the cardiac muscle cell that lets scientists see tiny structures like t-tubules, which convey electrical signals right into the core of the cell.

The muscle cell surface is disrupted when a person suffers heart failure, a condition in which the heart can’t supply enough blood flow. When that happens, adrenaline is activated to stimulate the weak heart and can cause more damage to the muscle.

There are two receptors for adrenaline, beta1AR and beta2AR – the second has protective properties while the first can cause more damage.

Beta blocking drugs stop adrenaline from affecting heart cells by targeting the beta receptors, and the scientists believe nanoscale microscopy could lead to better drugs being developed.