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Houston Methodist receives multi-million dollar grant from National Institutes of Health to study another way to cure atrial fibrillation

Houston, TX - 10/24/2013

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded Houston Methodist a grant for more than $3.5 million over five years to study another way of curing atrial fibrillation by infusing alcohol into a vein.

Atrial fibrillation is a condition that causes an irregular and rapid heartbeat in the upper chambers of the heart that in turn causes poor blood flow to the rest of the body. People with this condition might experience severe heart palpitations, shortness of breath, weakness and fatigue. It affects nearly three million people every year. More importantly, it increases the risk of stroke and overall mortality.

The standard procedure to fix the problem involves using an instrument with a metal tip to ablate or "burn" areas in the left upper chamber of the heart to create scar tissue in certain spots that will prevent atrial fibrillation.

"This new procedure will involve injecting alcohol into the oblique vein of Marshall during the standard procedure to help ablate tissue involved in the generation of atrial fibrillation" said Miguel Valderrabano, a cardiologist with Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center and the study's lead investigator. "Alcohol is toxic when it goes through the tissues, but when it gets into the blood it is diluted and no more dangerous than drinking one beer."

The oblique vein of Marshall runs along the left atrium and connects with the coronary sinus, a collection of veins that form a large vessel that gathers blood from the heart muscle and delivers it to the right atrium. The name comes from British surgeon John Marshall, who described it in a published paper on veins in 1850.

Valderrabano, who developed this new procedure, says the oblique vein of Marshall has been shown in studies to have triggers that can cause atrial fibrillation. It has also been shown to have muscle connections between the pulmonary veins and the rest of the heart muscle that can bypass the areas upper chamber of the heart that have been burned off to protect against atrial fibrillation. He adds researchers have never had a way to address the problem in catheter ablation until now.

"I believe this new procedure gives us a better chance at curing people with persistent atrial fibrillation, which can sometimes be a challenge," Valderrabano said. "Right now curing this problem with one procedure is 40 to 50 percent and 70 to 80 percent with more than one procedure. We believe this procedure will help improve those numbers."

This study will look at the efficacy and safety of this procedure in people with persistent atrial fibrillation. The procedures will be performed at Houston Methodist Hospital as well as two other hospitals in the Texas Medical Center and one hospital in Austin.

"Early research results have been positive and encouraging and we hope that this will help us achieve an even more reliable cure for atrial fibrillation," Valderrabano said.

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