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The Biology

Heart development begins very early and involves the formation of two simple tubes. These fuse together, bend and fold to form the heart on one side of the body.   Blood flows in one side of the heart and is pumped to the lungs where it gives up carbon dioxide and picks up oxygen. It then returns to the other side of the heart, which pumps it round the rest of the body delivering oxygen.

Film Credit: www.EHD.org Image
Image © Kate Storey

How it works

The heart lies on the left side of body. How it gets there during development involves a process linked to mechanisms that determine which side of the body many internal organs (stomach, liver, gut and heart) are placed. These left -right differences are established in the early embryo and are directed by a protein called Nodal.

Image © Wellcome Images

Find out more:
Steps in heart development

How the adult heart works

Key labs that work on heart development:
Eric Olson, University of Texas Southwestern

Heart research grouping University of Oxford

Selected research papers:
Review of how perturbation of the left-right body plan may cause congenital heart defects.

Recent review of how left-right differences at set up in the developing embryo

Review of genes regulating heart development

Over-view of heart development

Mending broken hearts: cardiac development as a basis for adult heart regeneration and repair

When development goes wrong

Children born with a heart problem are said to have a congenital heart defect. Some forms of these may be related to failure of proper assignment of left-right differences in the early embryo. However, most common are defects due to later steps, such as proper separation of the four heart chambers.

Image © Wellcome Images
Such a failure may generate a so-called " hole in the heart" or septal defect, which results in aberrant blood flow. This defect can be closed by surgery, but may also heal over with time.

Heart disease in adults is the biggest killer in the UK. This often involves blockage of the heart’s blood supply. Interventions such as drug treatment or surgery to remove or widen blocked blood vessels are routine treatments.

Find out more:
Heart Defects – Hole in the heart explained

Congenital heart defect association – for grown up people with congenital heart defects

Coronary Heart Disease – the effects of blocking the heart's blood supply

British Heart Foundation – UK charity that supports prevention of and research into heart disease

Heart Bird dress +Heart Tube hat: Details

Heart bird dress: Non precious assorted feathers, nylon mesh

The Heart Bird illustrates the folding heart tube. Balanced by a feather tail and held in shape inside by fine nylon wires, the heart was made by pulling fabric over a specially shaped wooden block.


Heart tube hat: Nylon, straw

Helen and Kate asked milliner Philip Treacy to come up with a design for the earliest step in heart development, the fusion of the two tubes. His piece shows these coming together above the developing diaphragm, which separates the chest and abdominal body cavities and will eventually support the mature heart .

Copyright Helen Storey


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