New Insights Into Deadly Heart Rhythm Disorder

Armen Hareyan's picture

Heart Rhythm Disorder

Every year, 300,000 Americans die suddenly when, out of the blue, a "storm" of electrical activity arises within their heart muscle - so violent and so abrupt that their hearts just stop beating. These tragic and dramatic "sudden cardiac deaths" strike people young and old, often without warning.

But despite this, scientists still don't understand just what causes a heart's electrical system to suddenly go so berserk. They have a name for the rhythm disturbance that causes most sudden cardiac deaths - ventricular fibrillation, or VF - but not a full understanding of what makes one person more vulnerable to it than another.


And although research on VF in animals is yielding important clues, it hasn't been clear if lessons learned from the hearts of laboratory mice can be applied to people.

Now, a new paper by a group of researchers published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences sheds new light on the origins of VF and the ability of research in animals to be translated into humans. The paper, and other research by the team, may help lead to better ways to identify which people are at risk of sudden cardiac death, and to develop treatments to help them reduce their risk.

The paper, which will be in the December 26 print edition of PNAS, is by a group of researchers from the United States, Canada and Spain. Most of them are from a State University of New York Upstate Medical University group that is in the process of moving its research laboratory to the University of Michigan Medical School.

The research team is led by senior author Jos