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Wednesday, 15 April, 1998, 22:36 GMT 23:36 UK
Computer heart to beat disease
computerised heart
A computer model could save thousands of lives, say scientists
Scientists are developing a computer program to help in the fight against heart disease, the biggest killer in the developed world.

About half of all deaths in the western world are caused by cardiovascular diseases, according to the World Health Organisation. In Britain alone, heart attacks kill 150,000 people a year.

Doctors say the computer program should help save thousands of lives a year once it is fully developed.

Professor Noble: hopeful of breakthrough
Professor Denis Noble from Oxford University, one of the pioneer's of the project, says heart attacks are triggered by a single artery getting blocked. This damages the tissue around it and generates chaotic electrical activity across the whole heart.

Scientists have measured electrical signals from the beat of heart muscle cells and reconstructed the pattern on a computer.

When the heart is healthy, the electrical signal passes evenly from bottom to top. But after a heart attack, the pattern is chaotic.

"The role of our model is to try to work out how you would develop drugs or devices that would interact with that process and stop it," said Professor Noble.

The project, which involves scientists from several countries including America and New Zealand, is expected to lead to new and better drugs to treat the disease.

The computer program can also simulate how coronary arteries develop and reproduce exactly what happens when the heart pumps.

Professor Brian Pentecost of the British Heart Foundation said the project was an exciting advance.

"This development should enable us to explore the potential of new drugs and the treatment of heart rhythm disorders," he said.

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