Park City researcher Nassir Marrouche published in New England Journal of Medicine
Since Nassir Marrouche was in medical school, he has been interested in studying heart disease and, in particular, atrial fibrillation. After years of research and more than 100 published papers, Marrouche has taken a big step toward treating those with the heart disorder.
Marrouche and his team found that a treatment called catheter ablation can reduce the chance of death by about half for those suffering with atrial fibrillation and heart failure. His work was published in this month’s edition of “The New England Journal of Medicine.”
Marrouche, a Park City resident who is a cardiologist and professor of internal medicine for the University of Utah, said that atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that can lead to reduced blood flow and strokes, blood clots and heart failure, is a common disease in the U.S.
“Six to eight million Americans have atrial fibrillation today,” he said. “Imagine how common that disease is.”
People with atrial fibrillation suffer from about 200,000 strokes each year, he said.
Marrouche has spent years studying atrial fibrillation. He has published research about imaging and mapping he did of the heart of those with the disease as well as different treatment options, which have previously been limited to drug treatments. He decided to start this particular research to test a new treatment nine years ago.
One of the reasons the research took so long was because Marrouche wanted to prove that his treatment, catheter ablation, actually saved lives. Patients with atrial fibrillation and heart failure were assigned to undergo either catheter ablation or medical therapy. To see if the treatment worked, he waited multiple years until some in the patient pool passed away from heart failure. For those treated with catheter ablation, the mortality rate was about half of those treated with medicine.
The ablation procedure uses a catheter that is fed to the site of the abnormal heart cells. Doctors deliver a dose of radiofrequency energy and destroy the abnormal cells. From this treatment, the heart restores its regular heart rhythm.
Marrouche said that mortality studies are hard to do because of the time it takes to complete them, but collecting that data provides more assurance that the treatment reduces the death rate.
Marrouche, who moved to Utah in 2006, said that the infrastructure and spirit of collaboration is what initially attracted him to the state and helped make his research possible. He helped create the CARMA Center (Comprehensive Arrhythmia Research and Management), which brings together medical professionals for research and treatment of patients with arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat.
“People in Utah are so hungry for collaboration,” he said. “I could only do this in Utah because they let you operate, and that is something unique.”
Marrouche said that when his research team started wrapping up the findings of the studies and he saw that there was a significant difference between those treated with his procedure and those who were not, he was so excited that it gave him goosebumps.
“It was very rewarding,” he said. “As a physician, you work all your life and you want to make an impact.”
After having that success in his results, the next one came a few months later.
Usually, researchers submit their work to a journal and are either published or not. In Marrouche’s case, he was presenting for a cardiology meeting and was approached by the New England Journal of Medicine. They wanted to publish his findings.
Getting recognized for his work is a dream come true, but Marrouche is also happy to spread the word because he knows what it means for patients around the world, including his own. Now, there is an alternative to drugs that can have high costs and negative side effects.
With this success, he hopes to continue the momentum and find more ways to save lives.
“I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by this team here,” he said. “I look forward to more breakthroughs.”
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