Massachussets General Hospital to coordinate new global research initiative in USA exploring genetic causes of atrial fibrillation


The electrophysiology service of the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Heart, Vascular and Stroke Care has announced participation as coordinating centre in the USA for a new research initiative dedicated to explore the genetic causes of atrial fibrillation as part of the Transatlantic Network of Excellence in Cardiovascular and Neurovascular Research Program.

The Institute announced that it will serve as the coordinating site in the United States and the Amsterdam Medical Center will serve as the coordinating site for Europe. The Network, which is funded by a US$6 million award by the Leducq Foundation, will provide a platform for conducting cutting-edge and meaningful research into atrial fibrillation. The project will span over five years beginning in October 2014. The results of the research will provide new insights into the cause of this arrhythmia and provide new diagnostic tools and drug discoveries to reduce the burden of stroke, death, and hospitalisations associated with atrial fibrillation.

Although recent research has successfully identified genetic variants that are associated with atrial fibrillation, there is a limited understanding of mechanisms through which these genetic variants lead to this type of arrhythmia. The Transatlantic Network of Excellence entitled “Deciphering the genomic topology of atrial fibrillation” will use novel four-dimensional analyses of genome interactions to understand the underlying mechanisms that lead to atrial fibrillation in affected patients. Patrick T Ellinor (Massachussetts General Institute for Heart, Vascular and Stroke Care), coordinator of the Network in the USA, tells Cardiac Rhythm News: “At present, there are over a dozen areas in the genome that have been found to be strongly associated with atrial fibrillation. However, we do not understand the mechanism underlying these findings. We will seek to create a 3D map of these regions and then follow these changes over time, thus creating a four dimensional view of atrial fibrillation.”

Within the first year of research, according to Ellinor, the objective is to create a map of the genetic regions associated with atrial fibrillation. “We will also develop new mouse knockouts of these genes to learn more about how they lead to atrial fibrillation,” he adds.

Initial findings of this research will be available within the next six to eight months, Ellinor comments.

The Transatlantic Network of Excellence is comprised of a team of researchers from around the globe with diverse backgrounds. This collaboration of genetic research of atrial fibrillation includes:

  • Patrick Ellinor, Massachussetts General Institute for Heart, Vascular and Stroke Care, US coordinator of the Network
  • Ivan Moskowitz, University of Chicago
  • Jim Martin, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston
  • Vincent Christoffels, Amsterdam Medical Center, European coordinator of the Network
  • Wouter de Laat, Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands
  • Paulus Kirchhof, professor, University of Birmingham and Sandwell & West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust in Birmingham, United Kingdom

“It is very encouraging and impressive to see a group of experts with disparate backgrounds come together with the same goal in mind-to have the ability to identify the populations at greatest risk of atrial fibrillation,” says Ellinor. “We hope the discoveries of our research will not only provide insights into the cause of atrial fibrillation, but other diseases as well. Ultimately, with a better understanding of the underlying genetic mechanisms of atrial fibrillation, we can improve overall patient care.”

“Our role within the newly formed Network supports a core component of our mission at the Institute, which is to lead the charge in translational research, focusing not only on today’s critical issues, but also by discovering the medicine of tomorrow,” says Michael R Jaff, chair, Massachussetts General Hospital Institute for Heart, Vascular and Stroke Care. “As a coordinating site for the experts, we hope to create an environment in which information is shared and the conversations lead to innovation.”