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Playing God with Virtual Hearts
In this lecture, Dr Brodie Lawson demonstrates how mathematical models and computer simulations help us better understand the complexities of the heart.
Underlying the heartbeat is in fact a rich signalling process, in which cells receive electrical stimulus that triggers them to beat. In the normal heartbeat, these stimuli are waves of excitation that travel through the heart, causing each cell to contract in turn and together produce a coordinated pumping motion. The body then controls the heartbeat by choosing how quickly to initiate these waves ー for example, more rapidly during exercise.
Unfortunately, it’s surprisingly easy for this to go wrong. Each heart cell waits for a signal, but can’t tell if a signal was legitimately initiated by the body. When this causes coordination to be lost, the result is arrhythmia, in which heart function is impaired or even lost entirely (ventricular fibrillation). Worse, our treatments for these issues remain unacceptably inconsistent. Understanding why antiarrhythmic medicines or surgeries work for some and not others remains a key question in cardiac physiology.
Enter mathematical models, and ACEMS. This talk will show the astounding complexity of one of the body’s most important organs, and how through virtual computer simulations, we can come to understand it in new ways that traditional experiments could never reveal.