October 25, 2012
Helping us beat atrial fibrillation
Around 950,000 people in the UK
have atrial fibrillation. Also known by its initials, AF, the
condition mostly affects people aged 55 and over and greatly
increases the risk of having a stroke.
Our Digital Media Officer Corinne Pritchard talks
to our newest BHF Professor, Barbara Casadei about how she is
taking on the challenges of atrial fibrillation.
Professor Casadei’s research gives hope to many thousands of people in the UK who are at risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
Professor Peter Weissberg
BHF Medical Director
What is atrial
Normally, your heart’s natural pacemaker sends out regular
electrical impulses. Atrial fibrillation happens when those
impulses fire off from different places in the atria (the top
chambers of the heart) in a disorganised way.
The symptoms of atrial fibrillation - an irregular or racing
heartbeat, tiredness, dizziness, feeling faint and shortness of
breath – can cause real distress for sufferers.
For many, there are no noticeable symptoms – but they still have
a greatly increased risk of stroke and heart failure.
As for the causes, while for some people they can be traced back
to one or more underlying conditions – for example coronary heart
disease, high blood pressure, heart valve disease, an overactive
thyroid gland or even excess alcohol consumption - in many patients
no underlying cause can be found.
This is where Professor Casadei and her team
They’ve been awarded over £1.9 million to look
into the causes of atrial fibrillation, and come up with new and
improved treatments for patients.
Investigating atrial fibrillation
BHF Chair of Cardiovascular Medicine
One of the top Professors in the field,
Barbara Casadei has been working at Oxford University for 20 years
and has now received over £1.9 million to investigate the causes of
Barbara isn’t just a research scientist, she’s
also a trained clinician working with patients in the field, and
also our newest BHF Chair. Professor Casadei’s work could lead to
new ways of preventing and treating atrial fibrillation.
One of the times people are most at risk of
developing AF is immediately after heart surgery. About 35 - 50 per
cent of patients develop atrial fibrillation in the 5 days after
Barbara says: “My team and I are
currently conducting a clinical trial on a potential treatment
which we hope will prevent patients from developing AF after
“We found that inflammation and the level of
certain substances called reactive oxygen species in the heart
predicted whether someone might get atrial fibrillation after a
“Once we discovered this, we pinpointed how
these reactive oxygen species were being produced. The next step
was to find a way to help reduce the levels of these substances in
“Early tests showed that a short course of
statins – the cholesterol lowering drug - before surgery seems to
reduce the amount of reactive oxygen species in patient’s heart. So
now we’re doing a full scale trial to see if this treatment with
statins really will help us stop AF from developing.
“I’m delighted that the British Heart
Foundation has decided to appoint me as a BHF Chair. They’ve
supported me and my work for many years, and it’s very exciting
that they’ve decided to make this long-term commitment. It’s a huge
encouragement to me and to my team.
“We’ve got an extremely talented group of
researchers working on the problem of preventing AF here at the
University of Oxford, and I'm optimistic that with this
support our research will make a real difference.”
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