A group of doctors in the U.S. and Japan have developed a technique to treat atrial fibrillation by adding 98% ethanol to the catheter-aided radio wave ablation of nerve clusters, a minimally invasive therapy that targets a cluster of anomalous nerves near the vein of Marshall, known to trigger arrhythmia.
This study is the result of a $3.5 million grant awarded by the National Institutes of health to the research team led by Miguel Valderrábano, M.D., chief of cardiac electrophysiology at Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center. The procedure was performed in volunteers with an average age of 64, and resulted in the development of a therapy that was able to stop the transmission of electrical impulses responsible for atrial fibrillation. To treat heart arrhythmia, doctors commonly use surgical approaches or radio frequency ablation, however, both procedures carry risks of collateral damage to other healthy structures. The research team found that chemical ablation with alcohol through a catheter inserted in the neck vein was significantly more effective at disrupting the nerves than surgical therapy alone making it a viable treatment to improve the success of standard therapies. This method actually prevented doctors from artificially triggering atrial fibrillation using electrical stimulation to activate nerve clusters, a common procedure to determine whether ablations are successful.
Blood alcohol concentration for patients receiving the treatment were analyzed, but found to be nonexistent.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia and affects one in twelve people over the age of 80. It is a condition where one or both of the heart’s upper two chambers tremble between beats, disrupting blood flow and resulting in low oxygen supply to the body, heart palpitations, chest pains, edema or inability to engage in prolonged physical activity.
Although efficient, catheter ablation to treat atrial fibrillation is not always permanent and many patients end up undergoing a second ablation procedure.
With this new treatment, Valderrábano and colleagues hope to improve the efficacy of such procedure, minimizing potential side effects and also reducing the number of times it needs to be performed in a patient.
The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, and funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health.