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September 2004 Issue

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Nurse Scientist Studies Genetic Connection in Arrhythmias

Published September 2004

A College of Nursing faculty member has received a $350,000 grant to study genetic predictors of cardiac arrhythmias, which can produce irregular heartbeats and sudden cardiac death with or without a heart attack.

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 care.

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 clear.

"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 genetic susceptibility."

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.

Dr. Beery's grant was provided by the National Institute of Nursing Research.

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