Scientists may have method to predict, prevent heart arrhythmias

The mathematic method of prediction used by researchers could lead to new devices that prevent the change in heart rhythm.

By Stephen Feller

MONTREAL, Sept. 28 (UPI) -- Researchers have found a way to predict abnormal heartbeats in cardiac arrhythmia patients who have a condition called long QT syndrome, according to a new study with chickens.

Long QT syndrome is a disorder that disrupts the heart's electrical activity, causing fast, chaotic heartbeats. The disorder can cause alternans in patients, which is characterized by alternating long and short heartbeats.


"If further experiments confirm our results, we can imagine cardiac devices software could use a similar function to predict when a person's heart is taking the first step towards alternans," said, Thomas Quail, a doctoral candidate and researcher at McGill University, in a press release. "This means a device could reset the heartbeat much earlier than current ones, avoiding a distressing experience for the patient and potential damage to the heart."

Researchers took cells from embryonic chicken hearts and grew clusters of cells that could beat on their own. Using a drug, they induced abnormal heartbeats and recorded the cells' beats with a camera to observe the cluster's switch from regular to irregular heart rhythms.

The researchers used tiny clusters of chick heart cells that are able to beat on their own to study cardiac arrhythmias. Photo by Thomas Quail, Alvin Shrier, and Leon Glass/McGill University

The experiment allowed for the researchers to see when the cell clusters went offbeat. These observations allowed them to develop a math equation to predict when the cluster would transition from one beating pattern to another.


"There is a transition period," said Alvin Shrier, chair of physiology at McGill, "in which the variability of the rhythm increases and the pattern gets messy. Sometime after that transition, the alternans start. One interval is a little bit longer, and the next one is a little shorter, but with time the difference in the intervals increase and the pattern becomes very clear."

Photo by McGill University

More research is needed, however Quail said the equation could be used in devices to not only predict when an arrhythmia will happen and reset the heartbeat to avoid potential damage to the heart.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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