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Research: Ghost Hearts

News Story

A popular song by Adam Lambert suggests that hearts can be “Ghost Towns,” a sentiment that’s overwhelmingly negative. But as Lauri Nemetz’s research has shown, the scientific iteration of a “ghost heart” can potentially be a very, very good thing.

In addition to pumping our bodies full of blood, the human heart has long been a popular symbol for emotional intimacy. To have a “heart to heart”, for example, is to fully connect with someone. Or to have your heart “broken”, as often exhibited in popular culture, is to lie in bed all day and subsist on chicken soup.

Lauri Nemetz, MA, BC-DMT, LCAT, ERYT, has looked at the heart’s ability to forge connection in a slightly different, scientifically groundbreaking manner. Specifically, through her research involving the “ghost heart”—a process that involves breaking down the various components of the organ to potentially create new, healthy human tissue.

“I became interested in the idea of the ghost heart, which is stripping the muscle tissue from an organ and leaving the extracellular matrix behind. This again can be reutilized in the future for reintroducing stem cells and the back shape of an organ can be used to reintroduce healthy tissue cells instead of artificial organs.”

Namely, Nemetz is interested in the way the heart functions as a cohesive, unified organ—how the heart is able to connect with both itself and the larger entity it’s a part of, thus bringing cooperative functionality to the rest of the human body.

To better explain the idea behind the ghost heart—and how it differs from more traditional anatomical dissection, Nemetz drew upon the example of one of our favorite fruits.

We look at the idea of an orange. We’ve been traditionally peeling apart the orange and taking apart those little segments and this is similar to how we dissect out and name individual muscles.  But if you take a look at the whole orange and at the pith (the white) in between, that’s like our connective tissues, and that’s the part of the body that I’m interested in…those connections."

Nemetz, who has been heavily involved in the yoga world for over two decades, is also looking at fascia (connective tissue fibers, like tendons and ligaments) as it pertains to her work as a dance/movement therapist. Through her work in this field, Nemetz has drawn upon her area of research to understand how, as she put it, “the connections between the muscular tier affect one part of the body to another.”

“If you’re doing a downward facing dog in yoga and somebody has tight hamstrings they might just be looking to that part of the body. But if you understand the connection in terms of anatomy there’s a connection from the bottom foot around to the Achilles tendon, to the back of your calf muscles up through your hamstrings, so there’s a relationship from one part of the body to another.”

Given her status as a prominent figure in the dissection world, Nemetz will be presenting at the Fascia Research Congress Poster Session in Washington, DC, this September—an international conference that gathers scientists from all over the world to look at fascia and its implications. Research regarding fascia has garnered considerable interest from the sports community, as surgeons are beginning to look at the implications of connective tissue—something Nemetz will likely also tackle in “Myofascial Anatomy for Movement and Sports Training,” a course she will be teaching in Pleasantville this spring. The course comes in addition to her work with AnatomyTrains®, through which Nemetz, a faculty member, teaches worldwide workshops. 

Through her research, Nemetz hopes to shine light on what she believes is an underappreciated area of anatomical study, and help utilize connective tissue in a way that can potentially revolutionize the way we think about connectivity and healing.

“A lot of this in the past has been stripped away in traditional anatomy. Traditionally they’ve been kind of pushed on the side. And really they’re the kinds of things that connect us all together.”