International Cooperation Brings Heart Research into Gallop

Fibrillation

Together, researchers from the University of Copenhagen and the University of Adelaide in Australia have mapped the hearts of a number of horses. The objective is to learn more about atrial fibrillation in trained individuals – among horses as well as humans.

At the Large Animal Teaching Hospital in Taastrup, Columbus is resting his muzzle on some woodwork in one of the large examination rooms. The former trotter is this morning’s first animal to be examined in a Danish-Australian research collaboration that is investigating heart rhythm disorders, such as atrial fibrillation.

Cotton in the ears, a patch for the left eye and a sedative in the body helps the horse to relax. The same does the veterinarian who calmly strokes Columbus’ forehead, while a team of technicians, veterinarians and researchers from both the University of Copenhagen and the Australian University of Adelaide concentrate on the left flank of the chestnut gelding.

•	The former trotter Columbus is today's first test animal.

The former trotter Columbus is today’s first horse to be examined.

Although for Columbus, the horse track has been replaced with an examination room, the atmosphere among the horse’s audience remains cheerful and electrified, because already, the researchers’ international collaboration has borne fruit.

‘Amongst other things, we have managed to gain access to the left atrium of the horse’s heart and study the electrical impulses that are likely to initiate cardiac arrhythmia. We were anxious to see whether this would be possible, but already now we have exciting new measurements’, says head of the experiment, Professor MSO and Veterinarian Rikke Buhl from the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen.

‘It’s almost like Christmas Eve. Many of us were not able to sleep last night, even though we had been up all day working yesterday and will continue to work like that for the rest of the week’.

It All Comes Together

You find the same enthusiasm in the Australian head of research and internationally recognised doctor and expert on heart rhythm disorders, Prashanthan Sanders from the University of Adelaide:

‘By coming together from opposite ends of the world, we are now making new ground in our research. These unique results have only been made possible by combining the University of Copenhagen’s equine expertise with our knowledge of cardiac mapping from the University of Adelaide. These results will provide insights for both clinical management of patients and also in the equine field’, he concurs.

Professor Prashanthan Sanders.

Professor Prashanthan Sanders.

The international cooperation was established after Prashanthan Sanders last year attended an international heart conference with presentations by, amongst others, Professor Thomas Jespersen from the Department of Biomedical Sciences which is also part of the present study.

That presentation included photos from projects at The Equine Cardiac Group at the Large Animal Teaching Hospital. The photos became an eye-opener for the Australian scientists as there are no similar animal models anywhere else in the world.

In collaboration with veterinarians from the University of Copenhagen, cardiology researchers from the Australian University of Adelaide are mapping the hearts of the horses in detailed 3D models.

Assisted by veterinarians from the University of Copenhagen, cardiology experts from the Australian University of Adelaide map the hearts of the horses in detailed 3D models.

Using electronic equipment, the Australian experts monitor the electrical activity in the hearts of the horses.

Using electronic equipment, the Australian researchers monitor the electrical activity in the hearts of the horses.

Helps Both Horses and Humans

Already in March, the Danish and Australian teams successfully tested their methods on four initial horses. And at the end of August, just about six months after the pilot test, the atmosphere at the actual study in Taastrup is simmering with excitement.

During the previous week, veterinarians from the University of Copenhagen have tested the physical fitness of thirteen trotters, performing ECGs, ultrasound scans and exercise tests on specially designed treadmills. Now, it is the Australian heart specialists’ turn to map the hearts of Columbus and the other horses in 3D.

This is done with small wires that are inserted into the horse’s heart chambers and enable the researchers to monitor the live, electrical impulses in the heart.

Before mapping the hearts of the horses, veterinarians from the University Teaching Hospital for Large Animals test the physical fitness of the animals. This is, amongst other methods, done on special treadmills, as illustrated by this picture from a previous study.

Before mapping the hearts of the horses, veterinarians from the Large Animal Teaching Hospital test the physical fitness of the animals. This is, amongst other methods, done on special treadmills, as illustrated by this picture from a previous study.

In this manner, the researchers can also observe when Columbus and the other horses experience atrial fibrillation, a disorder common among horses with a long training history – and also among human athletes.

‘Exercise is healthy for us, but something seems to indicate that too much exercise over time can cause scar tissue on the heart musculature’, explains Rikke Buhl from the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences.

‘The problem is that there are not many animals that exercise for long periods of time in the same way as we do. Horses are an exception. Therefore, by using horses as models, we can learn more about factors that may potentially improve the health – for both our species’.

Facts About the Collaboration

  • The international collaboration is the most extensive so far at the Large Animal Teaching Hospital.
  • The first results will be presented at a European congress later this year. In addition, two publications are under preparation and are expected to be released within the next year.
  • The Australian researchers are affiliated with the Centre for Heart Rhythm Disorders at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the University of Adelaide, respectively.
  • From the University of Copenhagen, the participants are researchers from the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Rigshospitalet.
  • In addition, technicians from the company Abbott Medical A/S assist in the usage of equipment and software for mapping the hearts of the horses.

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