Student identifies electrical changes preceding heart failure

A Johns Hopkins undergraduate student has contributed to new research showing that electrical changes in the heart leading to heart failure can occur long before a patient exhibits any clinical symptoms. The initial changes can then spur a second, later phase of changes that cause lethal heart rhythm disturbances known as arrhythmias.

The study by Samuel Hahn, 21, a senior biomedical engineering major from Lutherville, Md.; and Fadi G. Akar, Ph.D., a research assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, was the first to describe the time-course and nature of electrical abnormalities occurring during the development of heart failure. A manuscript of their work has been submitted to a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The two conducted their research in the laboratory of Gordon F. Tomaselli, professor of medicine and vice chair for research in the Department of Medicine.

"By the time most patients are diagnosed with heart failure, it's too late to really improve their condition," Akar said. "By defining the early electrical changes, we hope to identify new targets for therapy that can either reverse or, at the very least, hinder the progression of the vicious cycle of events that ultimately leads to death."

During heart failure, the pumping action of the heart becomes inadequate, resulting in a back pressure of blood along with congestion of the lungs and liver. Nearly 5 million Americans suffer from heart failure and more than 250,000 die annually from the condition, Hahn said. The incidence and prevalence of the disease continue to increase with the aging of the U.S. population.

"Despite remarkable improvements in medical therapy, the prognosis of patients with heart failure remains very poor, with almost 20 percent of patients dying within one year of initial diagnosis, and over 80 percent within eight years," Hahn said. "Of the deaths in patients with heart failure, up to 50 percent are sudden and unexpected, and

Contact: Phil Sneiderman
Johns Hopkins University

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