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Scientists have discovered a rare heart bone in some chimpanzees

Researchers at the University of Nottingham have found that some chimpanzees have a bone in their heart called an os cordis. The discovery of the tiny bones, which measure only a few millimeters in length, may ultimately help experts manage the heart health and conservation of endangered chimpanzees. 

There are not many species of animals that have an os cordis, and the presence of the bone is sometimes indicative of heart problems.

The heart bone is larger in many bovines, such as cattle, ox, and buffalo, and butchers often have to remove it. There are some groups of sheep, dogs, and camels that have an os cordis as well. 

When the heart bone is not present in most individuals within a species, it is usually associated with heart disease. 

Cardiovascular disease is a very common problem among wild chimpanzees. A better understanding of their hearts may present brand new opportunities to protect chimpanzees.

According to the analysis, which was carried out at the University of Nottingham School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, the os cordis was more likely to be present in chimps with idiopathic myocardial fibrosis – a type of heart disease found in both chimps and humans. 

Myocardial fibrosis is the most common type of heart disease in chimpanzees and has been linked to the occurrence of cardiac arrhythmias and sudden death.

“The discovery of a new bone in a new species is a rare event, especially in chimps which have such similar anatomy to people. It raises the question as to whether some people could have an os cordis too,’ said study lead author Dr.  Catrin Rutland.

In order to scan the chimpanzees’ hearts with most detail possible, the team used several techniques including an advanced imaging method called micro-computed tomography. 

The study revealed that cartilage was present in addition to bone, which provides insight into how the bone growth started. The scientists also found that the heart bone in both male and female chimps of different ages.

The underlying reasons for the development of the os cordis are not yet clear, but the bone is thought to perform specific mechanical functions. Experts theorize that the bone may support the essential heart valves or even alter the electrical system which controls the heart.

“Looking for ways to help chimps with heart disease is essential,” said Dr. Sophie Moittié. “Understanding what is happening to their hearts helps us manage their health.”

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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