Email Print Share

"Heart Warming" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.

A research team, led by the University of Minnesota, has discovered a groundbreaking process to successfully rewarm large-scale animal heart valves and blood vessels preserved at very low temperatures. The discovery is a major step forward in saving millions of human lives by increasing the availability of organs and tissues for transplantation through the establishment of tissue and organ banks.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Defrost mode (Sound effect: microwave oven beep) set.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files from the National Science Foundation.

Ever try to thaw frozen ground beef by nuking it on defrost? Some areas thaw, some cook, and some are still frozen. When warming frozen tissue for transplants -- especially larger tissues (even though we don't use a microwave), that kind of uneven warming is bad news, making the damaged tissues unusable. A group of scientists led by the University of Minnesota has made a major advance and they're just getting warmed up.

For decades we've had preservation technologies to cool biological samples to an extreme chill, dude. Trouble is, it's usually done on very small samples, because on larger ones, damage occurs upon re-warming.

The team placed a tissue sample in a cryoprotectant solution, containing silica-coated nanoparticles of iron oxide. The particles act like little tiny heaters activated by a non-invasive electromagnetic wave. The technique warms the tissue evenly up to 100 times faster than current methods.

Result: No tissue damage. And they were able to increase the tissue size by 50 times. As the team scales up toward entire organs, the work could eventually lead to elimination of waiting lists for transplants and fewer discarded organs.

Warms your heart, doesn't it?

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

Also Available:
Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (66.6 KB)

Use your mouse to right-click (Mac users may need to Ctrl-click) the link above and choose the option that will save the file or target to your computer.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.