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article imageNew digital technique to assess heart rhythms

By Tim Sandle     Sep 2, 2019 in Science
Do our hearts beat digital or analog? Answering this seemingly simple question will have implications for the development of new new classes of drugs to treat heart rhythm disorders.
Looking into this area are scientists based at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and their findings may alter the way medics have previously understood how electrical activity travels in the heart, and this could have far reaching consequences for the subsequent treatment of heart arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death.
According to lead researcher Professor Rob Gourdie electrical impulses could travel through heart muscle in steps, a sort of jumping between cells in a rapid on-off fashion, much like a digital wave. This is in contrast to traditional models which see the heart as beating as a smooth, continuous flow of current (something more like an analog wave).
The scientists demonstrated that sodium channels from neighboring heart muscle cells can cooperate to move electrical current, which leads to regenerative impulses moving from one heart muscle cell to the next.
To show this required an array of advanced medical technologies, such as super-resolution microscopy, electric cell-substrate impedance spectroscopy, transmission electron microscopy, and electrocardiography.
Speaking with Healthcare in Europe, he explains the research objectives: “Our goal is to find ways to control heart rhythm disturbances. Learning how bioelectricity works in the heart at the nuts-and-bolts, molecular level is important for human health, because it will help us understand why the heart sometimes beats out of rhythm."
In terms of new treatments, he adds: "With heart disorders increasing as the population grows older, new strategies for preventing arrhythmias including new drugs are urgently required to help heart patients.”
The experimental findings are published in the journal eLife, with the research paper headed "The adhesion function of the sodium channel beta subunit (β1) contributes to cardiac action potential propagation."
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