You could call it a long-term, heartfelt commitment.
In addition to its large, ongoing research contract, Medtronic recently committed another $350,000 to the University of Minnesota’s Visible Heart® Laboratory—the only place in the world where human hearts (donated, not suitable for transplantation) are reanimated so scientists can see exactly how they work from the inside.
The gift of $50,000 per year for the next seven years will support the Medtronic Professorship in Visible Heart Research, held by Paul Iaizzo, Ph.D., director of the lab.
“A large portion [of the gift] is allotted to support graduate students seeking Ph.D. degrees in biomedical engineering, as well as medical students gaining research experience,” Iaizzo says. “It also supports the ongoing enhancement of the lab’s free-access website, Atlas of Human Cardiac Anatomy, an interactive educational tool for clinicians, medical students, patients, and the general public.
“Finally,” he adds, “it helps us purchase lab equipment and supplies to further our student-specific research, and allows graduate students to attend specialized training and key scientific meetings.”
Paul Iaizzo, Ph.D., Director of the University of Minnesota’s Visible Heart Laboratory, has given the medical world a unique, never-before-seen view inside the beating heart. Part of the Medical School’s Experimental Surgical Services, the lab has reanimated hundreds of hearts, including about 50 human hearts, using a clear, artificial blood that lets tiny camera-equipped catheters record every movement from the inside.
Iaizzo, who holds the Medtronic Visible Heart Research Professorship and collaborates with scientists and engineers from the medical device company, has personally reanimated more than 1,000 swine hearts and the 50 or so human specimens, which have been collected into a one-of-a-kind heart library to share with other researchers. Video and images from the lab have been used in textbooks and conference presentations around the world, and they’ve helped give biomedical engineers important new insights into the heart’s functional anatomy.
In the mid-1990s, Paul Iaizzo, Ph.D., was studying muscle loss in intensive care unit patients when he received an intriguing phone call.
“How would you like to study a population of individuals who do not get weak even though they’re immobilized for four to six months?” the caller asked.
Iaizzo responded, “Well, that would be amazing.”
The caller was University of Wyoming wildlife biologist Henry “Hank” Harlow, Ph.D., and the population he was referring to was hibernating black bears.
Some patients who spend two to three weeks in an intensive care unit can lose up to 50 percent of their muscle mass, which slows recovery and can lead to ventilator dependence. Bears, on the other hand, can go four to six months without eating or activity and wake up ready to run.
How do they do it, and what if their secret could be translated to hospital patients?
Such questions have led Iaizzo from his lab in Minneapolis to bear dens in Colorado, Wyoming, and northern Minnesota.
The University of Minnesota’s Visible Heart lab is the only place in the world where researchers can study beating hearts outside the body, and Paul Iaizzo, who runs the hi-tech facility, says it can sometimes feel as though he’s working in an episode of "ER."
"Here we go," he says, as he stands near a table on which a heart sits festooned with electric wires and pumps.
"Delivering," he says as an electric shock jolts the fist-sized organ. "There we go. Got it back in one shock. We defibrillated the ventricles."
That’s heart talk, and it means the heat is beating normally.