New Research Takes Aim at Heart’s ‘Safe Zone’

November 15, 2013

Sudden car­diac arrest is the leading cause of death in the indus­tri­al­ized world. How­ever, it’s not well under­stood and is chal­lenging to both pre­dict and effec­tively pre­vent, according to Alain Karma, Arts and Sci­ences Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Physics.

“The drugs that reduce the risk for sudden car­diac death have not been suc­cessful,” said Karma, who is the director of Northeastern’s Center for Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Research on Com­plex Sys­tems. He attrib­uted the drugs’ failure to their design, noting that they are cre­ated without con­sid­er­a­tion of the entire car­diac bio­log­ical system.

Karma wants to change that. Backed by $1.2 mil­lion in funding from the National Insti­tutes of Health, he and his col­leagues at Brown Uni­ver­sity will study how a par­tic­ular class of gene muta­tions in humans sig­nif­i­cantly increases the risk of sudden car­diac arrest by dis­turbing the heart’s elec­trical sig­naling. The work, Karma said, “will help us under­stand what kind of inter­ven­tions we can use to move the heart system from an unsafe zone to a safe zone.”

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