Thomas Hund, professor in biomedical engineering, is one of several Ohio State researchers working to find new treatment options for atrial fibrillation. Credit: Courtesy of Thomas Hund

A research grant was awarded to an Ohio State team composed of engineering, medicine and pharmacy professors and will be used to further understand new treatment options for atrial fibrillation, a disease that causes an irregular rapid heart rate and impacts more than 3 million people in the world.

Graduates and undergraduates worked with Peter Mohler, director of the Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Institute; Thomas Hund, a biomedical engineering associate professor with the College of Engineering; and Cynthia Carnes, senior associate dean for research and graduate education with the College of Pharmacy and earned a four-year grant for $3.2 million from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Xander Wehrens, professor and physician at Baylor College of Medicine, is also working on the project.

Atrial fibrillation is characterized by an irregular heartbeat, and can lead to strokes and heart failures, among other complications, according to the American Heart Association. Existing therapies and treatments for atrial fibrillation are relatively standardized, and Hund is hoping the team’s research might change that, as they focus on targeting individuals and providing them with therapies that will be tailored to their needs.

“From a clinical perspective, we tend to take a one-size-fits-all approach, where we think all people with atrial fibrillation patients are the same, and we can use one approach, or a handful of approaches, to fix them,” Hund said. “When in reality, everyone is different.”

The team is hoping to individualize therapies by looking at patients’genetics and using models to see if a treatment will work for them before they receive treatment. Hund’s team will put the DNA into computer systems that can predict why the arrhythmia is occurring and what treatments might work.

Carnes’ team uses mice as test subjects to study arrhythmia. Mice are used to study the role of specific proteins in heart function, because there is a lot of overlap in the proteins related to heart function between mice and humans. The computer models from Hund’s team along with the mice from Carne’s team allow the researchers to test predictions on how treatments might work.

“(We) have created a team that is greater than the sum of its parts,” Mohler said. “That allows us to move a lot faster on the discovery part of the grant and coming up with new treatments for the patients.”