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PAUL RAEBURN, host:

Stick with us, folks, it's time for Video Pick of the Week. Flora Lichtman, our producer for digital media is here.

Hi, Flora.

FLORA LICHTMAN: Hi, Paul.

RAEBURN: So what have you got?

LICHTMAN: This week, we have, I think, kind of an amazing little piece of footage. So researchers in Arizona from the Tucson VA and the University of Arizona took rat heart cells. And they injected them onto this piece of mesh -like a suture, you can think of.

And a few days later, the suture started beating.

RAEBURN: The heart cells in a test tube, so to speak, started beating.

LICHTMAN: In a Petri dish.

RAEBURN: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: You can watch on our Web site at sciencefriday.com this piece of mesh, of synthetic material, beating naturally at 70 beats per minute.

RAEBURN: Now, I say, have I heard of this before? Have people seen this before? Or is it a new observation?

LICHTMAN: Yeah. No. I mean, you're right. So I was amazed already…

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: …you know, that…

RAEBURN: It's one thing to hear about it. It's another thing to see the video.

LICHTMAN: Right, to see the video. But, you know, heart cells are known to beat outside the body. They have this protein in them called the contractile protein that stimulates them to beat. That's been known for many years. But what is kind of amazing about this research, and what they were surprised about is that not only were these cells beating, but they were beating in unison. So they sort of, they naturally have this way of communicating, it seems like, to the researchers, that allow them to beat together, in other words. And that's kind of an amazing thing.

RAEBURN: Now, I'm trying to picture this. The individual cells expand and contract. Is that what the beating consists of?

LICHTMAN: Yeah. They pull in, and what was needed that they all sort of pull in on the same timeline - they're in synch. And what they found was that, actually, if you put electric current to them, so if you stimulate them, you can change the rate of the beats per minute. So it starts at - it's naturally at, like, 70 beats per minute, which is actually slower than a rat's heart -you know, these are rat cells.

But if you - you can speed it up by zapping them.

RAEBURN: So bring the cart, the rat cells in the Petri dish are having a heart attack, right? Give them a shot with the paddles.

LICHTMAN: Right. Exactly. And the reason why that's important is because the hope is that this patch could be used down the road to treat people with heart damage. So the idea is that after a heart attack, some of your heart cells die. You could maybe put this patch on. And if it's true that the cells can change their timing, the hope is that they would match the native heart tissue.

RAEBURN: Well-timed cells would prompt the native heart to get in step.

LICHTMAN: Well, the native heart would prompt them to…

RAEBURN: Oh, I see. So you're going to add cells and they would beat with what's already there.

LICHTMAN: That's right. That's right.

RAEBURN: Okay. These would be human heart cells in this…

LICHTMAN: Right. In this scenario, yes. But they haven't done it with human heart cells yet, but the hope is that they'll behave the same way.

RAEBURN: And it has every reason to think human heart cells would behave the same way?

LICHTMAN: Hopefully, yes.

RAEBURN: All right. Well, so we can see it on Sciencefriday.com.

LICHTMAN: That's right. So go to sciencefriday.com. It's a video - you can see it there in the left-hand corner. And take a look and let us know what you think. Leave a comment.

RAEBURN: Great. Thanks, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks.

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