OU researchers evaluate nerve stimulation in atrial fibrillation treatment
Researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center are exploring the effectiveness of a new high-tech treatment for atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm disorder.
Atrial fibrillation affects more than 2.5 million Americans. With atrial fibrillation, rapid, disorganized electrical signals cause the heart’s two upper chambers to beat very fast and irregularly. Atrial fibrillation can cause strokes and death.
Current treatments involve drugs or surgery, but a new approach is being investigated that focuses on stimulating the vagus nerve, a nerve that exists on both sides of the body and plays an important role in helping the heart beat within a safe range.
"It's been shown that people who have a greater vagal tone are less likely to suffer a heart attack, are less likely to have sudden cardiac death or an adverse outcome following a heart attack,” said Stavros Stavrakis, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of Cardiology at the OU College of Medicine and member of the OU Heart Rhythm Institute.
Stavrakis and his team are evaluating the therapeutic potential of low-level vagus nerve stimulation in the treatment of atrial fibrillation.
The approach utilizes a stimulator surgically implanted around the vagus nerve.
"So you just do a small incision in the neck; put that in; and then the stimulator communicates wirelessly with an external generator,” Stavrakis said.
The hope is that by stimulating the vagus nerve at a level that is not slowing the heart rate and is not noticeable by the patient, the device will be able to prevent episodes of atrial fibrillation, thereby regulating and restoring a more normal heart rhythm.
If successful in the laboratory, the developers of the device believe clinical trials could begin in the United States as early as next year. The company already is in the process of testing a prototype in patients in Europe.
While commercial availability of the device in this country is still probably five to ten years away, Stavrakis said it is promising technology and may provide a way to offer a minimally invasive treatment for atrial fibrillation. However, he emphasizedthe technology would likely be used to complement, rather than replace, current atrial fibrillation treatments.
The research is being conducted in conjunction with Rosellini Scientific with funding from a $75,000 NIH Small Business Innovation Research grant.
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OU Health Sciences Center awarded new grant to fund Oklahoma Healthy Aging Initiative
The University of Oklahoma Health and Sciences Center has been awarded a three-year $11.5 million grant by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation to further efforts to improve the health of seniors in Oklahoma.
The grant will provide critical funding for the Oklahoma Healthy Aging Initiative, a senior health initiative of the OU College of Medicine’s Department of Geriatric Medicine.
“As the population of our state and nation continues to age, it is vital that academic-based medical centers, like ours, remain at the forefront of advancing scientific knowledge of the aging process and evidence-based treatment of health concerns that may arise with advancing age,” said Dr. M. Dewayne Andrews, senior vice president and provost of the OU Health Sciences Center and executive dean of the OU College of Medicine. “The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation has been a valued ally as we work to improve senior health in Oklahoma and we are honored to be the recipients of this generous grant.”
The Oklahoma Healthy Aging Initiative aims to support Oklahoma’s seniors through a variety of programs that center on three key objectives:
•Increasing senior and caregiver access to inter-professional geriatric care
•Providing health education to consumers as well as health care providers
•Optimizing Oklahoma’s current health and aging policy
The new grant will fund phase two of the initiative, which expands and builds on previous successes of the program.
“The Oklahoma Healthy Aging Initiative has helped us establish important inroads as we work to improve senior health statewide,” said Dr. Laurence Rubenstein, chairman of the Donald W. Reynolds Department of Geriatric Medicine at OU. “The Oklahoma Healthy Aging Initiative has opened three Centers of Healthy Aging across the state already, allowing us to serve seniors in 47 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. With this grant, we will be able to add additional centers, expanding our reach to every county in the state.”
The Centers of Healthy Aging serve as hubs providing both clinical care and health education to citizens in the region.
“We look forward to being able to expand our work through the Oklahoma Healthy Aging Initiative,” said Dr. Andrew Dentino, Oklahoma Healthy Aging Initiative director and vice chairman of the Department of Geriatrics.
“Already, this initiative has achieved great success for seniors in our state. We welcome the opportunity to further our educational activities for both seniors and health care professionals, to continue work already underway to better assess the needs and interests of older Oklahomans, to increase awareness of geriatric health concerns overall, and to help train the next generation of senior health care providers.”
Surveys conducted through the Initiative have verified a need for more trained senior health caregivers in Oklahoma. The new grant will enable initiative leaders to implement a certified home caregiver training program aimed at increasing the number of qualified caregivers in the workforce and also better equipping family members to perform necessary tasks when they become caregivers to elderly loved ones.
The grant also provides the funding required to add three satellite centers to better address the needs of seniors in some of the most underserved areas of the state.
"The Reynolds Foundation is immensely proud of the critical work that the Donald W. Reynolds Department of Geriatric Medicine is doing to bring geriatrics medical care and education to the state of Oklahoma,” said Steve Anderson, president, Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. “Our goal is to improve the health of older people living throughout Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Healthy Aging Initiative is doing just that."
The Oklahoma Healthy Aging Initiative was launched on the premise that good health is key to successful aging. The Institute is focused on increasing access to healthcare and providing important health education to seniors, their caregivers and healthcare providers statewide.
The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation is a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named. Headquartered in Las Vegas, it has committed over $258 million nationwide through the Aging and Quality of Life Program.