ARRA grant funds cardiovascular optical imaging research

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A $566,000 grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has allowed researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., to continue work on an optical system to simultaneously image electrical activity and metabolic properties in the same region of a heart.

The ARRA funds also are allowing the team to purchase a pair of $60,000 "high-speed and highly sensitive digital cameras" to record the changes in the metabolic and electrical activity of isolated cardiac tissue using low-intensity fluorescent dyes under conditions associated with heart failure, ischemia, fibrillation and other pathological circumstances.

The multimodal cardiac imaging technique uses a two-camera approach to integrate electrophysiological imaging with optical fluorescence imaging of metabolic activity associated with damaged heart tissue and tachycardia. The biochemical and electrochemical studies of heart tissue under controlled conditions will enhance scientists' understanding of electrometabolic cardiac disorders and their clinical treatment.

Tested in animal models, the investigators suggest that the system could advance scientists' understanding of the relationship between metabolic disorders and heart rhythm disturbances in humans that can lead to cardiac arrest and death, and provide a platform for testing new treatments to prevent or stop potentially fatal cardiac arrhythmias.

The design and use of the dual-camera system is described in the Nov. 1 issue of Experimental Biology and Medicine. Additional support for the project has also been provided by the Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research and Education (VIIBRE), the American Heart Association (AHA) and the Simons Center for Systems Biology at the Institute for Advanced Study.

"The challenge in understanding cardiac rhythm disorders is to discern the dynamic relationship between multiple cardiac variables," said co-author and the project's principal investigator, John P. Wikswo, PhD, professor at Vanderbilt and VIIBRE director. "This dual camera system opens up a new window for correlating metabolic and electrophysiological events, which are usually studied independently."

The research is supported in part by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health.

"Through the Recovery Act, the NHLBI is able to support promising research to develop and enhance innovative technologies to help us better understand the complex mechanisms involved in potentially fatal conditions such as sudden cardiac arrest," said NHLBI Director Elizabeth G. Nabel, MD. "This research will allow us to better understand how to prevent and treat life-threatening cardiac rhythm disturbances and potentially save thousands of lives every year."