Heart attack prevention

A young medical researcher in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tel Aviv University is giving hope to the millions of people who may otherwise die of sudden heart attacks. Dr. Sharon Zlochiver has developed a mathematical model to predict heart attacks. And if it proves successful, he will be able to recommend prophylactic treatment from his office to patients’ physicians by email!

Zlochiver’s research is concerned with the balance of myocytes, muscle cells that contract in the heart, and fibroblasts that work to hold the muscle cells in place. When we are in good health the ratio of myocytes to fibroblasts is about 70/30. But as we age, the balance of these cells in our hearts shift, and often the fibroblasts become more prevalent than the myocytes.

If the fibroblasts become close to 70 percent of the heart’s mass, the heart is in trouble. Zlockhiver calls this the ‘tipping point,’ the point at which a heart attack is imminent, when prophylactic intervention would be needed. The problem is that traditional heart measurements alone — the EKG, MRI, and CT scan — can not distinguish one set of cells from the other.

But Zlockhiver’s researched focused on the the electrical signals that take place between the myocytes and the fibroblasts, the electric coupling of the two sets of cells, and he was able to find the point at which heart fibrillation beings to occur.

Now, after relating his electrical data to MRI and CT scans, he is working on applying that data to what he sees when he looks at one of those scans. He says he will be able to view a heart scan and “build a mathematical model and simulate electrical activity. That way, we can identify the problem point and stop the fibrillation,” Zlochiver said.

In the future, Zlochiver hopes that doctors will be able to email those scans to his clinic and his models will be able to give them guidance as to treatment.