A "virtual heart" has been developed by a team of scientists to help medical researchers study new drug therapies for heart failure. The researchers created a detailed computational model of the electrophysiology of congestive heart failure, a leading cause of death.
Researchers from the University of California created the model that can simulate subtle changes from the cellular and tissue levels of the heart, up to the whole heart itself, then show the results of the associated electrocardiogram (ECG), a common tool that helps doctors diagnose heart abnormalities.
‘The virtual heart helps better understand how arrhythmia and heart failure manifest and also test drugs to prevent adverse health events.
The model can show what happens to the heart when the levels and flow of calcium, potassium, and sodium ions are changed at the cellular and tissue levels.
It also can take into account the speed at which a cell's ion channels, which take in those ions, work at.
At the organ level, the model of the heart shows what happens when various critical chemicals and electrophysiologic components of a healthy working heart are tweaked.
The research team found that ventricular fibrillation, where the waves of excitation that pump blood out of the heart become fragmented and discoordinated, can be caused by a heart failure-related slowdown in cellular processes at the top (basal) region of heart.
The model was also used to plan a new drug strategy against heart failure form of fibrillation.
The study was published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology.