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New Imaging Technique Unlocks Secrets of the Zebrafish Heart
  • Nov 25, 2019
  • Latest News

Scientists develop a new type of 3D microscopy to capture the growing hearts of zebrafish embryos for the first time, which could also teach us more about how the human heart develops, grows and heals. This is according to research part-funded by us and published in Nature Communications.


The development of the zebrafish heart begins in a similar way to humans, making them very useful for heart research. In the zebrafish the heart beats several times every second. It is this constant motion that tends to create blurry images, making it difficult to study the images in depth.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow and University of Edinburgh have developed a way to gather many images of the heart into a 3D image layer-by-layer over 24 hours to produce a time-lapse video. The computer program is able to control exactly when to fire lasers for imaging, which means that the growing and dividing cells in the beating heart can be viewed with great detail for the first time.

Dr Jonathan Taylor, lead researcher at the University of Glasgow, said: “This lets us watch continuously as the heart forms over the course of a whole day, without causing any harm to the fish. It’s pulled back the veil on processes such as cell division within the heart which we just didn’t have any way to visualise before.”

From imaging to future treatments
Dr Martin Denvir, co-author at the University of Edinburgh, said: “There are two very promising potential applications of this new technique. Firstly, now that we can see detailed images of the growth of the heart on a cellular level, we hope to be able to apply that new knowledge to develop treatments for abnormal heart formation in the future.

“Secondly, we’ve been able to observe immune cells travelling to injured areas of the heart, which could help us guide the modification of immune response to more effectively treat cardiac inflammation and heart disease.”

The research was also funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.