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Healing A Broken Heart
Teacher Contributed

Healing A Broken Heart

a model of a human heart

Nuclear Hearts?

What do human hearts and nuclear bombs have in common? Not a whole lot. One is a key muscle which circulates blood through our bodies allowing for the delivery of oxygen (O2) and nutrients to cells and the removal of wastes and carbon dioxide (CO2), the other is well...a bomb. However, researchers are connecting dots and discovering that an unexpected result of extensive nuclear tests after World War II is the ability to track human cells.

It was long believed that heart cells could not regenerate. They were seen as so specialized that once developing cells differentiated in to heart cells that was pretty much it. The heart cells you had at that point were the heart cells you would have for your whole life, so if these cells were damaged, the best you could hope for was to go along with reduced heart function. Enter nuclear bombs. As you may know, after World War II there was extensive above ground testing of nuclear bombs. These tests resulted in increases is radioactive isotopes (these are unstable versions of elements like 14C) in the environment. Scientists have found that these isotopes were incorporated into plants and ultimately into animals (like humans) when the plants were eaten. What does this tell us about human hearts? Watch this clip to find out more.

Now, if you are thinking you've heard of 14C before, you have. It is the key part of radiocarbon dating which researchers, especially archeologists, use to find out the age of things. You can find out more about how this works by going to this interactive http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/radiocarbon-dating.html

Extension Investigation

Use the resources below to answer the following questions:

  1. How fast can heart cells replace themselves? Why was this rate of renewal previously missed by researchers?
  2. How does the process researchers used to determine new heart cells were being formed similar to radiocarbon dating? How is the process different?
  3. Does this new information change the way you think about your body? Why or why not?
  4. How do researchers hope to use this new information to help heart attack victims recover? Can you think of any other way this information can be used?

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