Genetic biomarkers may help to better predict atrial fibrillation after heart surgery. | Photo: Getty Images

Atrial fibrillation (Afib for short) is the most common heart rhythm abnormality. In the U.S. alone, 6 million people live with it, a number projected to double by 2030. If left untreated, Afib increases the chance of a stroke fivefold and doubles the risk of heart-related death.

To broaden our understanding of this arrhythmia, a multidisciplinary team of Cleveland Clinic researchers is taking a closer look at what makes Afib tick. They’re studying genes associated with the disease, which often runs in families. 

Our achievements are a direct result of philanthropy. We’re very appreciative of the donors who have given so generously. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the preliminary data that philanthropic support allowed us to generate.

Dr. Mina Chung

“We’ve found good preliminary data,” says Marc Gillinov, MD, Chair of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery in  the Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute. He holds the Judith Dion Pyle Endowed Chair in Heart Valve Research. 

“The data suggests that certain biomarkers can increase our ability to predict atrial fibrillation after heart surgery,” Dr. Gillinov says. “With more research, we would be able to tell someone in advance of heart surgery, ‘You’re very likely to get atrial fibrillation, so we’re going to give you a medicine to prevent it.’ That would be the hope.” 

The research draws on Cleveland Clinic’s BioRepository, which includes blood samples and tissue samples from thousands of patients with cardiovascular disease, obtained with their consent and deidentified to protect patient privacy. The sheer volume and variety of cases treated by Cleveland Clinic puts the international health system at the forefront of cardiovascular genetic research such as the Afib study. 

Going forward, the BioRepository also will be a powerful asset for broadening our understanding of other cardiovascular diseases, according to Dr. Chung. “We’ll be able to ask a lot more questions,” she says, “and answer more questions with all of those samples.” ♥