How zebrafish could help in the quest for new heart drugs

High throughput electrocardiogram recording of zebrafish embryos

Attila Sik (lead researcher)

Birmingham, University of

Start date: 25 February 2013 (Duration 3 years)

Irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias), greatly increase the risk of sudden death from cardiac arrest – when the heart beat suddenly stops – and the risk of heart attacks and strokes. In 2010 the most common arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation, affected more than 750,000 people in the UK, but there are also many other types.

New drugs are urgently needed to treat irregular heart rhythms. Over recent decades the rate of drug development has slowed, as scientists have discovered new drugs that seem to improve patient outcomes carry an unacceptably high risk of dangerous disruption to the heart’s electrical activity. Now a team at the University of Birmingham aims to improve the process of future drug development using a new, innovative method. Bringing together experts from wide-ranging scientific disciplines such as electrical engineering, genetics and neuroscience, they have developed a prototype technology which enlists the zebrafish as an ally in the fight against arrhythmias.

The prototype technology combines drug screening of zebrafish embryos with a ‘micro-ECG’ – a microscopic version of the human electrocardiogram test. Drug screening involves placing a molecule – a potential new drug – into a small pool containing a zebrafish embryo, no more than five days after fertilisation. The effect of thousands of these potential new drugs on the heart can be monitored by looking at thousands of zebrafish embryos. The painstakingly assembled micro-ECG monitors the electrical pattern of each zebrafish heartbeat – which has a very similar electrical profile to that of humans – down to the tiniest detail. The research team will test the effectiveness of their new prototype in spotting the effects of potential new drugs on the heartbeat, long before these effects would become apparent in human trials.

Project details

Grant amount £295,840
Grant type New Horizons Grant
Start Date 25 February 2013
Duration 3 years
Reference NH/12/3/29636
Status In progress

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