EUR 2.5 million for earlier, improved treatment of atrial fibrillation

The Dutch Heart Foundation is investing 2.5 million euros in a large-scale study of atrial fibrillation. This is the most common cardiac arrhythmia and can lead to other serious cardiovascular diseases. Researchers at Maastricht UMC+, five other Dutch universities, and numerous hospitals will work together over the next five years to identify atrial fibrillation earlier, preferably before it actually occurs, and treat it better.

Before the arrhythmia occurs, the atrium of the heart is already malfunctioning. The study aims to understand this atrial disorder better and thus treat atrial fibrillation early and effectively, or even prevent it occurring. The Maastricht researchers are part of the CARIM research institute within the MUMC+. They will focus in particular on identifying the molecular mechanisms of atrial fibrillation and developing computer models for this condition.

A major problem with potentially serious consequences
More than 360,000 people in the Netherlands are known to have atrial fibrillation. An estimated 80,000 are thought to have the condition but to be unaware of it. Atrial fibrillation is not directly dangerous in itself but it increases the risk of heart failure and stroke, among other consequences. As a result, someone may become seriously ill or disabled or even die. Better treatment of the condition is therefore one of the Heart Foundation's top priorities. We want people with atrial fibrillation to grow older with a good quality of life.

Often identified too late
It is important to identify atrial fibrillation early, preferably before it actually occurs. That’s because when physicians diagnose someone as having the condition, the atrium has often been malfunctioning for some time, making effective treatment increasingly difficult.

Earlier treatment
The researchers will identify how the atrium starts to malfunction and atrial fibrillation develops, and in which individuals it rapidly worsens. Physicians will then be able to treat them at an early stage. They do this by creating tiny scars on the heart (a procedure called “ablation”). This enables them to restore the way electrical impulses are conducted in the heart, a process that is impaired in these patients.

Tackling underlying risk factors
Although we do not yet know exactly how the atrium becomes disordered, we do know that high blood pressure, obesity, heart failure, and diabetes are major risk factors. Tackling these underlying risk factors and disease processes is an important goal of the new study.

About the study
The “EMBRACE” research consortium is led by Prof. Michiel Rienstra (University Medical Centre Groningen) and Prof. Uli Schotten (Maastricht UMC+) and is a follow-up to the successful “RACE V” study.

EMBRACE is a partnership between university medical centres, hospitals, and universities in Groningen, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Leiden, Rotterdam, Arnhem, and Eindhoven and involves cardiologists, GPs, researchers, and also patients.

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