Treating heart conditions boosted by EU-funded study

Treating heart conditions boosted by EU-funded study

[Date: 2011-07-15]

An international team of EU-funded scientists has developed a new low-energy method for treating life-threatening cardiac arrhythmia, a group of conditions characterised by irregular electrical activity in the heart.

With a funding boost of EUR 12 million as part of the ‘Identification and therapeutic targeting of common arrhythmia trigger mechanisms’ (EUTRIGTREAT) project funded under the ‘Health’ Theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), the team from Germany, France and the United States worked on reducing the energy required for defibrillation, a treatment that delivers a therapeutic dose of electrical energy to the heart for patients with cardiac arrhythmia.

Traditional defibrillation works by delivering a strong electric pulse – often painful and damaging to the surrounding tissue, and forcing the heart back to its regular beating. However, the researchers’ new technique, called ‘LEAP’ (Low-Energy Anti-fibrillation Pacing), uses a cardiac catheter to create a sequence of five weak electrical signals in the heart. A few seconds later the heart beats regularly again, meaning this method requires 84 % less pulse energy compared to conventional defibrillation.

In a healthy functioning heart, electrical pulses propagate across the heart muscle at regular and controlled intervals that cause the heart’s ventricles and atria to contract and relax again. However, for those who suffer from conditions in the cardiac arrhythmia group, electrical pulses are prone to propagating throughout the heart chaotically in an unsynchronised manner. This has the effect of hindering regular heartbeat and stopping a proper supply of blood from reaching all parts of the body.

Writing in the journal Nature, the scientists explain how these research findings have implications for the development of painless therapy for life-threatening cardiac fibrillation.

Even though LEAP and standard defibrillation seem to work in a similar way, in fact they initiate completely different processes within the heart. The classical defibrillator works by using a very strong electric field that ex

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