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Cool AF

Dr. Laksman’s work with atrial fibrillation is a pretty big deal.

When you get your first look at the culmination of years of work by Dr. Zachary Laksman and his research team, you might think the video looks a lot like a pulsing hurricane. But what you’re seeing are human heart cells with atrial fibrillation (AF), an abnormal heart rhythm. This is the world’s first human tissue model of AF in a petri dish.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disorder, and yet we have very little understanding of why people develop the disease, and how to tailor treatments to individual patients.  

The Director of St. Paul’s Hospital Atrial Fibrillation Clinic and UBC Dr. Charles Kerr Distinguished Scholar in Cardiovascular Genetics says, “A lot of people are making heart cells from stem cells, but not chamber specific cells. So that has really opened the door to understanding a disease like atrial fibrillation, which only happens in atrial cells.”

More than 350,000 Canadians are affected by AF, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Currently, the first line treatment is medication, but they’re not always effective, and for some people can actually be harmful. The next step for Dr. Laksman is to develop personalized medicine using the AF cells in a petri dish, “We can try out different drugs in the petri dish, not on you.”