Born With an External Heart

CNN reported yesterday on a baby born with ectopia cordis, a rare congenital condition in which the sternum (breastbone) and pericardial sac do not form properly; the heart develops outside the chest.

Before the surgery, Naseem’s heart looked like a peeled plum sitting atop his pink chest, with the aorta diving back underneath the skin. Nevertheless, the heart was beating away normally.

During the six-hour operation, surgeons first wrapped Naseem’s heart in Gore-Tex, then a layer of his own skin, to substitute for his missing pericardium, the sac that encloses the heart. The heart was then slowly eased inside his chest.

Looks like the surgery went well. Later on, surgeons will graft pieces of his ribs to construct a sternum. You may read the whole story and see a couple photographs at CNN.

Update: Ncurse has more on this over at ScienceRoll. (Edited at 09:25, 25 November 2006.)

Research on New Hemostatic Agent

The December issue of Scientific American mentions a new protein solution that, in animal tests, has been able to quickly stop bleeding in a way that’s fundamentally different from previous methods. The research, by Dr. Ellis-Behnke and colleagues, was published online in the journal Nanomedicine on 13 October 2006 (see abstract); the article is still in press.

It’s a solution of peptides (proteins) that is injected over the wound and stops the bleeding in seconds. It’s unclear precisely how it works; the peptides apparently self-assemble into some sort of fibrous network, different from normal blood clots (no platelets are present). No apparent toxic effects have been observed, and the gel is long-lasting. What’s especially neat is that the sustance eventually breaks down into its constituent amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, which can then be used by the body.

Obviously, research is still in the initial stages. Even if it is shown to be safe in humans, its effectiveness will have to be compared to standard methods of stopping bleeding. But it could add to our collection of hemostatic tools, potentially displacing the methods we currently use.

J. R. Minkel discusses the development in an expanded article on Scientific American’s web site. It also features a short clip demonstrating the use of the substance after making an incision in the liver of some type of rodent.