It weighs less than a pound (450g) yet it is so important and beats around 115,200 times a day over and over again throughout your lifetime. This is the heart. Our blood vessels (arteries, veins and capillaries) which make up a system, are alone 60,000 miles long; which means that they can go around the world more than twice. The heart has a major role in the human body (as we all know); without the heart, our bodies can stop working very quickly. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the Western world.
The heart is a muscle and connected to it is many blood vessels which help the heart to carry and pump blood and necessities to other various parts of the body and to supply what the organs need. The brain is in constant need of oxygen from blood and without the heart, the brain would not be able to function as it would not get its supply of oxygen. Also, muscles constantly need nutrients, for example: oxygen, glucose and amino acids, as well as sodium, calcium and potassium in order to contract normally; so without the heart, we would not be able to respire to produce energy. If the heart was to fail, the entire body would shut down in a matter of minutes.
The heart has another function apart from carry needed blood and nutrients to the rest of the body, it is also a source of disposal of waste in the body. As the heart pumps blood around the body, it takes up carbon dioxide that your body produces as a result of aerobic respiration (which your muscles undergo constantly) and other waste products. As the heart does its cycle, the blood will eventually be transported back to the heart. The blood becomes rid of all chemicals such as carbon dioxide, these chemicals are sent to the lungs to be breathed out of our body. Blood also takes waste products to the liver and kidneys to be rid of via urine. Without the heart, we would be full of harmful chemicals and substances and we would all soon die.
So the heart is also known as a double circulatory system. This is because it has two pumps: the right side of our hearts receive blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs; and the left side of our hearts does the exact opposite (receives blood from the lungs and pumps it out to the body). This type of system allows the heart to have its advantages – higher blood pressure and so it prevents backflow of blood and it allows a greater flow of blood to the tissues.
Recently at the University of Queensland, Australia have had a major advancement in cardiac disease research by creating a ‘beating’ human heart muscle from stem cells. The scientists at UQ collaborated with German researchers to create models of the human heart tissue in the laboratory so that they could study the heart and its diseases ‘in a dish’. This will then provide scientists functioning human heart muscle to screen new drugs and to investigate heart repair.