Medical Moment: AFIB

Pinpointing the cause in a beating heart
Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 5:45 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Atrial fibrillation, or AFIB, happens when the heart’s electrical pulses get out of sync, causing an irregular heartbeat. 2.7 million Americans live with it.

Now, scientists are using a new way to find the source of the problem.

“The most dangerous side effect of atrial fibrillation is stroke because that clot can then travel to the brain,” says Brian Hansen, MD/PhD candidate at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Scientists are studying donated human hearts to better detect the precise point where arrythmia starts. Researchers are injecting the atria with a dye and using infrared light to see inside the heart wall.

“You’re familiar with jellyfish. And sometime if you see jellyfish that has fluorescent light glowing, we actually can see this glowing inside of the heart. After we inject the dye,” says Vadim Fedorov, professor of physiology and cell biology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

The hearts are preserved in a special fluid, and when warmed, start to beat. The researchers have multiple cameras positioned to capture four dimensional images and create computer models. The goal is to find the exact cells, or drivers, that are causing the AFIB.

“If you can find that circuit, you can then break that circuit with this ablation procedure,” Hansen says. “And that should quiet down the electrical storm elsewhere in the heart.”

Researchers say the more precise surgeons can be during ablation, the better the results for the patients. “We can prevent any risk of the stroke and the patients should not use any more blood thinners, which also have unfortunately side effects,” Fedorov says.

And encouraging news: doctors say eight of the ten patients were helped by the new method.

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