Terry Beery, PhD, an associate professor,
is one of a growing number of nurses who are combining their
hospital-based training with laboratory research to improve patient
Dr. Beery, who has had a longtime
interest in physiology and genetics, has previously studied patients
with pacemakers and implanted cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs).
"I was always interested in what led them
to get sick in first place," she says. "I wondered if we could help
family members who had no symptoms, but were identified as genetically
susceptible to arrhythmias, and treat them before they got sick."
Her goal, Dr. Beery says, is to increase
the availability of genetic testing to identify people at risk for
cardiac arrhythmias. Then, combining these tests with an understanding
of environmental factors that might increase risk, such as smoking,
caffeine intake and high cholesterol, "we might be able to prevent
arrhythmias in susceptible people by using current medical therapies
and/or counseling on lifestyle changes."
It's long been known that some heart
rhythm problems can be inherited, Dr. Beery explains. Some disorders
are related to problems with a single gene, but with others it's not as
"So," she says, "we're looking at the
idea that the causes of cardiac arrhythmias are broader than we
currently know, that there are many genetic predictors yet to be
discovered, and probably also an environmental link in addition to
Dr. Beery is preparing for the three-year
study by doing mentored molecular genetics research with D. Woodrow
Benson, MD, PhD, director of cardiovascular genetics at Children's
Hospital Research Foundation.
She's recruiting patients who use
pacemakers and defibrillators, family members who have had heart rhythm
or conduction problems, and people who have had primary rhythm problems
but haven't suffered a heart attack.