Personal Research

When we exercise, our heart rates increase, and when we sleep, they drop. But sometimes, when we're working during the day and minding our business, our heart skips a beat. During any 24-hour period, in fact, one-fifth of adults may experience this phenomenon and not know it. When extra beats happen in quick succession, the heart can enter a chaotic state, leading to a condition known as arrhythmia, which is treated with daily medication or, in more severe cases, electrical pulses that return the heart to normalcy.

Teresa Chay is a biophysicist who suffers from arrhythmia. She developed the condition as a child after rheumatic fever damaged two heart valves. Surgery seven years ago replaced the valves, but she still takes daily medication and occasionally needs to rush to the hospital for electrical pulse treatment.

Since her surgery, Chay has studied arrhythmia. Using supercomputers at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, she has developed a mathematical model that explains why arrhythmia begins and why it stops when electric shocks are applied. Her goal, like other researchers in this field, is providing a foundation for developing better drugs to control arrhythmia. Currently, the drugs are not always effective, and in some cases, for reasons not well understood, rather than controlling arrhythmia they can trigger it and kill you.

Researcher: Teresa Chay, University of Pittsburgh.
Hardware: CRAY C90
Software: User developed code
Keywords: arrhythmia, heart, heart rate, electrical pulse treatment, anti-arrhythmic drugs, ion channels, sudden cardiac death, atrial fibrillation, erratic beating, chaotic state, nonlinear dynamics, chaos theory, bifurcation analysis, coexistence theory, reentrant arrhythmia, self beating, quiescent state, sinus node.

Related Material on the Web:
More information about Dr. Chay and her research, from the Community of Science Web Server.
Projects in Scientific Computing, PSC's annual research report.

References, Acknowledgements & Credits