A Heart was Beating… - April 24, 2010 by admin

Owing to the automatism of the heart of the vertebrate, it can continue working even when removed from the body. The latest cardiac drugs were first tested on a heart taken from a frog which, under proper experimental conditions, goes on beating for many hours.

It is a popular misconception that when death occurs the heart automatically stops beating. In reality, this is not always the case. The Russian physician Andreev succeeded in making the heart of a newborn baby beat again four days after its death.

Several centuries ago people did not even suspect that this was possible. The famous physician Andreas Vesalius, who treated the Emperor Charles V, was among the few scientists granted the right to dissect bodies. He was sentenced to death by the Holy Inquisition on a charge of dissecting the body of a woman who was still alive. It was only thanks to the kindness of Philip II, the heir to the throne, that this dreadful and unjust death penalty was commuted to a penitent pilgrimage to the holy places on Mount Sinai and in Jerusalem. Vesalius did, incidentally, perish during this pilgrimage.

This accusation against the extremely popular scientist and famous physician of that epoch was motivated by the fact that the cardiac muscle of the woman who had been undoubtedly dead continued to contract. The reason why her heart continued to function for many hours after death cannot be established. None of the many astonished spectators who witnessed this dramatic event had a shadow of a doubt that the woman was alive. As for Vesalius, he was sure that accident was due to his own negligence and thought that the sentence proclaimed was just.