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Biophysics

Shocking hearts gently

04 Oct 2012

Cardiac fibrillation is a common medical condition where a person’s heart does not beat in a regular fashion. In the worst cases it can lead to fatalities. Current treatments involve shocking the heart back into its natural rhythm with electrical impulses, or implanting defibrillator devices that require surgery each time their batteries need replacing. In a recent interview with physicsworld.com, Eberhard Bodenschatz, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, talks about a new medical technique under development that could lead to less invasive treatments for this medical condition

 Heartbeats explained

Bodenschatz is part of an international team that is developing a technique known as “LEAP”, or low-energy anti-fibrillation pacing. Rather than shocking a patient’s heart with one large electrical pulse, the technique involves applying several weaker signals that manage to terminate erratic electrical activity in the heart. Bodenschatz has brought his background in spatio-temporal dynamics to the study of the electrical processes in the heart.

 Controlling the forest fire

Bodenschatz and his team have been testing LEAP on animals. He told physicsworld.com that the technique could be ready for medical trials within the next 2–3 years.

 Refining the physics

Bodenschatz believes that his background in fundamental physics is allowing him to bring a fresh approach to the study of processes in the heart. Naturally, however, there have been challenges along the way, including the need to learn the language of medicine in order to work with medical colleagues.

 Language of the heart

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