A major €12 million, St George’s-led project has been launched to improve the care of patients in Europe with the heart condition atrial fibrillation.

The European Network for Translational Research on Atrial Fibrillation (EUTRAF) initiative has been set up to develop further understanding of the disease, better diagnostic methods, and new therapies. The five-year project will involve a consortium of academic research groups and industry partners, and is being led by Professor John Camm at St George’s, University of London. 

EUTRAF has been set up to prevent rising rates of atrial fibrillation, which affects more than six million people in Europe and is expected to at least double in prevalence in the next 50 years. 

Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of cardiac arrhythmia – also known as abnormal heart rhythm. The irregular, often very fast, heart rhythm can cause fainting, fatigue, chest pain, and even potentially fatal strokes. Ischaemic stroke – where the brain’s blood supply is blocked by a blood clot or clump of fat – are five times more likely in people with AF. If a patient survives a stroke, they are very often left disabled and in need of long-term clinical care. 

The EUTRAF members are involved in a range of projects to develop better diagnostics and treatments. The expertise in the group includes molecular biology, genetics, experimental electrophysiology, engineering, computer science, and cardiology.

Among EUTRAF’s main projects are the development of:

· Clinical Decision Support Software (CDSS), an interactive computer program that will allow clinicians to quickly and effectively assess patients’ risk of AF and related complications. The CDSS will use data collected from patients to determine what signals indicate the development of AF. 

· New biomarkers – substances produced by the body that influence and reveal changes of body function, allowing clinicians to assess them – for AF. These will provide better diagnostic tools.

· Specialist equipment to improve the accuracy and analysis of electrogram recordings of the electrical patterns of the heart

· An electrocardiographic imaging tool to carry out non-invasive heart examinations, making the procedure more comfortable for patients

· Improved ablation intervention – a treatment technique where the source of the AF in the heart is mapped and destroyed. Ablation is achieved by heating heart tissue by applying radiofrequency energy, or by freezing the affected area.

The EUTRAF consortium is also collaborating closely with three large-scale clinical studies, as well as a new drug trial and a trial of early-intervention rhythm-control therapy.

Professor Camm said: “Atrial fibrillation is a major problem. It is much more common in elderly people and, with an ageing population, we predict that it will become much worse. Even making adjustments for ageing, it is still becoming more common. The condition has a dramatic effect on people’s lives, and the economic burden of caring for people who suffer strokes is already enormous. This work is essential.

“This is Europe’s biggest atrial fibrillation project, and brings together academic research and industry in a way not seen before in this field.

“We are confident of achieving results that will allow us to make earlier and more accurate diagnoses, and give us better weapons to treat atrial fibrillation. Ultimately, we hope to improve the quality of people’s lives.”