The AHA pre-doctoral fellowship I applied for in early January (remember?) has been approved for funding! I include a copy of the project lay summary, which the AHA will also post on its site, below:
A heart attack can only be stopped by application of a strong electric field (i.e. electrical defibrillation). While this treatment is currently used, and works, it also requires very strong shocks to ensure success. This is both painful and damaging to the body.
The way such shocks work is not entirely understood. Previous research has improved understanding of the mechanism, which has led to improvements in medical devices and quality of life. However, defibrillation shocks from implantable devices are still so strong that they cause people to lose consciousness. This study aims to further the understanding of electrical defibrillation in order to reduce the energy needed for defibrillation.
When a defibrillation shock is applied, there is sometimes a period when there is no activity in the heart, followed by more fibrillation (which means that defibrillation failed). The heart wall has different properties within its thickness depending on the distance to the heart’s surface. One goal of this study is to examine how those differences contribute to the period of no activity and the following continuation of the heart attack. We will use a computational model of the heart to simulate these differences in the wall and examine in detail how they affect defibrillation.
The inner wall of the heart is composed of a web of tissue, which is thought to interact with shocks and make defibrillation more difficult. In order to determine whether these effects are relevant to defibrillation, we will make a very detailed computer model of the inner wall of the heart, and simulate the application of a defibrillation shock. We will then be able to look closely at what happens on the inner wall of the heart during such a shock.
The long-term significance of this work is that it furthers understanding of the very complex phenomenon known as a heart attack, or fibrillation, and the methods by which heart attacks are treated. The current treatment is painful and incapacitating. The more that is understood about how defibrillation shocks work, the more those shocks can be improved and hopefully reduced in strength, leading to an improvement in quality-of-life for people susceptible to heart attacks.