The findings by Vanderbilt University researchers John Wikswo, Veniamin Sidorov, Rubin Aliev, Marcella Woods, Franz Baudenbacher and Petra Baudenbacher were published in the Nov. 14 issue of Physical Review Letters.
Fibrillation is a series of rapid, disorganized contractions in the heart caused by multiple uncoordinated, self-generated electrochemical waves that prevent the heart from pumping blood, quickly causing death.
"In normal conditions, an electrochemical wave moves smoothly across the heart, like expanding ripples in a lake when you toss in a stone. This wave then triggers a smooth and orderly contraction of the muscle," Wikswo, the Gordon A. Cain University Professor and Director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research and Education, said. "In fibrillation, it is as if someone continually throws in lots of rocks at different spots in the lake. In the resulting confusion, no blood gets pumped."
The application of a strong electrical shock, either with paddles on the chest or with an implantable defibrillator, is the best way to stop fibrillation. Ideally, a defibrillation shock would stop all waves in the heart and prevent new waves from arising spontaneously.
"You want to use as low a voltage shock as possible to minimize tissue damage and, for implantable defibrillators, to save your batteries," Wikswo continued. "However, if the voltage is too low, fibrillation returns immediately and you have to try again. The puzzle is why."
Wikswo's study explores the possibility that some waves might not be fully extinguished by a low voltage defibrillation shock, or new waves might be created by the shock, causing defibrillation to fail. If these remaining or new
Contact: Melanie Catania