Complex mathematical modelling has been used to create a virtual heart model shedding light on the risk and treatment of patients with atrial fibrillation.

The research team from the University of Auckland’s Bioengineering Institute developed the model with the help of funding from the Health Research Council and US National Institutes of Health and their study has just been published in Nature: Scientific Reports.

Co-author Dr Jichao Zhao said current clinical treatment for the heart rhythm disturbance AF is ‘suboptimal’ with often a ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula used for deciding on treatment options regardless of the patient’s preconditions.  It is estimated that about a quarter of New Zealanders aged over 40 will experience AF in their lifetime, with AF associated with an increased risk of stroke and heart failure.

“Recent scientific studies also suggest that AF runs in families and has a genetic underpinning.  Having a family member with AF increases your risk of developing arrhythmia by 40 per cent”.

Study collaborator and co-author Dr Patrick Gladding of North Shore hospital uses gene testing for clinical treatment of some patients with AF because it was known that patients with certain genetic variants respond differently to medication, cardioversion and ablation.

The virtual heart model developed by the team can show genetic variants and their role in AF. It has also shed new light on the underlying cellular mechanism of AF and can be used to evaluate different anti-arrhythmic therapy to work out under which conditions a specific drug is effective or prone to adverse effects.

“Our study has therefore made a very important step towards improving risk prediction, patient stratification, and clinical guidance during the treatment of patients with atrial fibrillation,” says Dr Zhao.


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