Upstate News

May 20, 1999
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Health Science Center Researchers Land $400,000 Grant to Develop Computer Simulation of Cardiac Arrhythmia

Researchers at the State University of New York Health Science Center at Syracuse have been awarded a $400,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a computer simulation of an irregular heartbeat or cardiac arrhythmia. Researchers say the computer simulation could help in the development of new drug therapies to control the sometimes fatal condition.

The grant will bring to the Health Science Center what is believed to be one of the fastest and most powerful computers in the Syracuse area. The Health Science Center is working with Sun Microsystems and Unifed Technologies to deploy a Sun High Performance Computer HPC 6501 with 30 processors. This computer will enable researchers to run a computer simulation of a cardiac arrhythmia using a mouse heart.

“The computational demands of simulating a cardiac arrhythmia are extremely extensive,” said principal investigator Jacques Beaumont, Ph.D., Health Science Center assisant professor of pharmacology. “Using this supercomputer, we will see a realistic and accurate picture of what happens during a cardiac arrhythmia and will be in a position to develop a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms.” Beaumont is assisted in his research by Jose Jalife, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Pharmacology at the Health Science Center.

Cardiac arrhythmias, which kill more than 350,000 people a year in the United States, are caused by the disturbance of an electrical impulse traveling in the heart muscle. The disturbance creates an irregular rhythm or beat which can last seconds, minutes or even hours. Cardiac arrhythmias occur when diseased tissue blocks or alters the trajectory of electrical impulses traveling in the heart, Beaumont said.

Beaumont’s early research found that when an electrical impulse attempts to bypass an injured region on the way to the heart, it forms a violent vortex or spiral causing the heart to beat very rapidly.

Beaumont likens the vortex to what happens when a barrier restricts water flow. “The water can’t go through or over the barrier so it flows around it and creates a fast spiraling swirl of water that alters the water flow,” he said.

With computer simulation, researchers can see how forceful the vortex can be if untreated. “As it continues to spiral, it eventually breaks up into many small vortices. Thus the heart continues to beat with an irregular pulse evolving at very high frequencies,” he said.

Using a powerful computer, Beaumont and his colleagues will be able to accurately reproduce and visualize the effect drug treatments will have on this condition. “We will be able to propose innvovative strategies for the control of cardiac arrhythmia, which may significantly improve current procedures.”

Available treatments for cardiac arrhythmias include drug therapies, which have numerous side effects, and surgical procedures, which can be very risky.

“There is the potential for this research to provide physicians and other health care professionals to gain a greater understanding of the mechanisms underlying cardiac arrhtyhmias and how the condition for their initiation or sustainment can be abated,” Beaumont said. “The benefits of using the computer to analyze new drug therapies can speed the process along.”

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