Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Help for Heart Patients

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) awarded $566,000 in Recovery Act funding to help Vanderbilt University researchers develop an innovative optical system to study the heart. The funding will enable the present eleven year old research project to continue and the researchers will be able to test the innovative optical system. The plan is to simultaneously image electrical activity and metabolic properties in the same region of a heart in order to study the complex mechanisms that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest.

The research team will purchase a pair of $60,000 high-speed and highly sensitive digital cameras to record the changes in the metabolic and electrical activity of isolated cardiac tissue. The cameras will use low-intensity fluorescent dyes under conditions associated with heart failure, ischemia, fibrillation, and other pathological circumstances. The multimodal imaging system will be a less invasive instrumental tool to help scientists discover and test safe and effective ways to prevent or treat arrhythmias.

Support is also being provided by the Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research and Education (VIIBRE), the American Heart Association, and the Simons Center for Systems Biology at the Institute for Advanced Study. John P. Wikswo, PhD, Professor and VIIBRE Director said, “The dual camera system opens up a new window for correlating metabolic and electrophysiological events which are usually studied independently.”

In another project involving a new medical device, Oregon Health & Science University’s hospital is the first hospital in the state to implant the HeartMate II, a new Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) to dramatically improve survival and quality of life in patients with end-stage heart failure.

The HeartMate II is the first LVAD to have a rotor, rather than a pump, and works by providing a constant flow of blood to the body. The device only has one moving part, making it more durable and longer lasting for up to 10 years than previous LVADs. The device is about the size of a cell phone making it one of the first mechanical devices ideally suited for women and others with smaller chest cavities who previously had limited options.

In another part of the country, the Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala Florida is treating patients experiencing sudden cardiac arrest with hypothermia therapy. The program the first in the region to use the non-invasive technology was developed in partnership with the Marion County Fire Rescue and Ocala Fire Rescue departments.

Currently in the U.S., a patient has a 3 to 6 percent chance of return of spontaneous circulation after suffering a cardiac arrest but through the efforts of the rescue units and community hospitals, the rate has improved to 13 to18 percent which is three time the state and national average.

The device called the “Arctic Sun” is a cutting-edge device that cools the body to around 91 degrees Fahrenheit causing mild hypothermia to slow down brain activity. Lowering the body temperature in this way decreases the amount of oxygen the brain uses and at the same time, protects the brain and limits permanent brain damage.

The American Heart Association recommends inducing moderate cooling of the body within six hours after cardiac arrest and sustaining that temperature to be followed by gradual warming has been found to increase the patient’s chances to survive with improved neurological function. It is best if the emergency departments, intensive care units, and physicians work together to coordinate the cooling process.