Researchers use ion technology to irradiate heart, treat atrial fibrillation

Current treatments for atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia, including catheter ablation, can be relatively invasive. New research shows physicians could treat patients just as effectively using carbon ions in a non-invasive procedure.

The ion method was studied for the first time by scientists at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany, who collaborated with physicians at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and other Europe-based medical centers. The findings were published in Scientific Reports.

Researchers first tested the method on cell cultures and beating heart preparations, which yielded positive results. The scientists have since developed an animal study to test the method.

“The new method is a big step into the future because, for the first time, it allows us to perform this treatment with pinpoint accuracy but without any catheters at all," said H. Immo Lehmann, MD, one of the authors on the study and a physician and scientist at the Mayo Clinic, in a statement from GSI.

The procedure is designed to be gentler and more effective than catheters, and it should only take a few minutes, compared to hours-long catheter operations. Additionally, the ions can penetrate a multitude of depths, which is necessary when completing procedures on parts of the heart like the left ventricular wall.

The ion procedure is based on technology originally developed in 1997 for cancer treatment at GSI. However, the treatment is now used widely by medical providers. 

"The study showed that the method can be successfully used to change cardiac tissue in such a way as to permanently interrupt the propagation of disruptive impulses,” said Christian Graeff, MD, head of the medical physics research group at GSI, in a statement. “Further detailed studies are needed, however, before the method can start to benefit patients.”