Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common form of abnormal heart rhythm, affecting millions of people worldwide. It is estimated that 9 per cent of people over the age of 65 suffer from the condition, which accelerates the progression of heart failure and increases the risk of stroke fivefold.
AFib is usually treated with drugs or a surgical procedure called PVI (pulmonary vein isolation), but both have high failure rates. In the case of drug therapy it’s 70 per cent while PVI has a failure rate of 50 per cent after three years. Now, however, the long-term outcomes for those with AFib may be about to change quite significantly for the better with the launch of a pioneering new treatment by Galway-based medtech start-up AtriAN Medical.
AFib is characterised by a rapid and irregular beating of the heart and is usually caused by damage to the heart’s structure. This results in the heart’s upper chambers being fed chaotic electrical signals that disrupt the regular rhythm. AtriAN Medical has developed a treatment that stops the errant signals in their tracks rather than blocking them once they have been initiated which is what existing treatments do. The company’s treatment is called mPEF – micro-pulsed electric field.
“In a nutshell, we have developed a technology that selectively targets the origin of the problem from outside rather than inside the heart and that’s very novel,” says AtriAN Medical co-founder and chief executive Ken Coffey. “Our technology involves using a catheter to deliver short pulses of electrical energy into the clusters of neuronal cells in which the arrhythmia originates. It destroys these cells without damaging the heart muscle and as such will provide a safe, durable and long-term solution for the treatment of AFib.
“The heart is an incredible machine that can beat on average once per second for 100 years. But as we age it gets affected by things such as stress, drinking too much or taking too little or indeed too much exercise,” Coffey adds. “These events can change the heart’s structure and affect its ability to beat with perfect synchronisation.”