Better drugs for irregular heart beats

Imaging of a zebrafish showing the effects of a blockage in an artery. Professor Attila Sik’s team at the University of Birmingham are using zebrafish embryos to identify new and improved drugs for people with arrhythmias.

Normally, heart muscle relaxes and contracts in a rhythmic, controlled fashion, pumping blood around the body. An arrhythmia, or an abnormal heart rhythm, is when the heart beats too slowly, too fast or irregularly. One of the most common types of abnormal heart rhythm is atrial fibrillation, a condition where electrical impulses fire in a disorganised way throughout the upper chambers of the heart.

Watch our video below to learn about atrial fibrillation. 

The problem with irregular heartbeats

When a heart beats irregularly, it can increase the risk of blood clots forming in the chambers of the heart. This can put a person at risk of stroke. 

A stroke happens when a clot restricts or blocks blood flow to the brain. New drugs are urgently needed to treat irregular rhythms of the heart and reduce the risk of dangerous cardiovascular events like these. 

Improving drugs for heart patients

We’ve awarded a team of researchers at the University of Birmingham, led by Professor Attila Sik, £295,840 to improve the process of drug development by using the zebrafish. 

Professor Sik’s technology involves placing a potential new drug into a small pool with a zebrafish embryo. By using a micro-electrocardiogram (ECG), the scientists can monitor the effect of the drug on the zebrafish’s heartbeat, down to the tiniest detail. This technique is a great way to study the effects of new drugs on heart beat before use in humans.

Thanks to your donations, BHF-funded researchers can continue using the extraordinary zebrafish in cardiovascular research.