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New math model of heart cell has novel calcium pathway

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Throughout all living cells there is a broad array of charged atoms called ions interacting in a dynamic environment. Ion channels along cell membranes open and close to allow these interactions. In heart cells, for instance, many different kinds of ion channels interact to generate the action potentials that go through the heart and cause a synchronized, normal contraction.

In a normal heart, action potentials form very organized waves of activity and contraction. In arrhythmia, though, normal spread of action potentials can be disrupted, either by a focal activity of a confined group of heart cells or by electrical waves that break the heart's synchrony in a number of different scenarios.

The largest killer of Americans is heart disease, claiming one million Americans annually. Over 300,000 of these deaths are attributed to arrhythmia, seven million worldwide. Rudy has used a computational biology approach to study arrhythmias at various levels (ion channels, cell, multicellular tissue) of the cardiac system, and his laboratory also has developed detailed computer models of the workings of cardiac cells and their alteration by genetic mutations (Nature 1999;400:566).

Until recently, heart specialists have not had noninvasive tools like MRI and CT, to better understand the heart's electrical function. In work supported by a Merit Award from the NIH, Rudy has pioneered a novel, noninvasive imaging modality for cardiac electrophysiology and arrhythmias (Nature Medicine 2004;10:422). The new method, Electrocardiographic Imaging (ECGI), adds a much-needed clinical tool for the diagnosis and treatment of erratic heart rhythms; it also provides a noninvasive method for mechanistic studies of cardiac arrhythmias in humans.

"ECGI has much potential," Rudy said. "One application could be as a screening tool to identify patients at risk of sudden death from arrhythmia. Another is diagnosis and guidance of therapeutic interve
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Contact: Tony Fitzpatrick
tony_fitzpatrick@wustl.edu
314-935-5272
Washington University in St. Louis
8-Feb-2005


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