Nov. 14, 2022
FIVM Seminar Series Presents: What can we learn from the horse heart?
Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots in the heart and increase the risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common pathological cardiac arrhythmia in humans and affects several percent of the population of Europe and North America. Although some predisposing risk factors are known, the understanding of the pathogeneses of this disease is still insufficient. Treatment of atrial fibrillation is difficult, has a high recurrence rate, and involves prescription of daily blood thinners and sometimes surgery. Importantly, atrial fibrillation is also found in companion animals and horses.
On Friday, November 18, Dr. Rikke Buhl will present research where studies on horses are used in order to learn more about the disease, thereby showing a new path towards treatment of millions of people – and horses - suffering from atrial fibrillation.
Dr. Rikke Buhl graduated as a veterinarian in 1999 and completed her PhD in 2004 from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Since that time her work has focussed on equine cardiology and in particular, on translational perspectives of human and equine cardiac arrhythmias. Dr. Buhl is currently a professor of equine cardiology and head of the medicine and surgery section in the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. She was the first to describe the development of heart size and prevalence of valvular regurgitation in trotters as a result of long standing physical exercise. Her research has shown that training induces significant cardiac hypertrophy with large individual variation among horses and that heart size has a positive correlation with racing performance of the horse. Although this response to exercise is considered to be a beneficial and physiological adaptation to increased demands, human studies have shown that the risk of atrial fibrillation is about 2.5 times higher among athletes than non-athletes, and that exercise-induced cardiac hypertrophy can become dangerous. There are many examples of prominent athletes who lived well with this disease, e.g. Billie Jean King and Larry Bird. On the other side, there are examples of sudden cardiac death or near deaths of athletes. The collapse of Danish soccer player Christian Eriksen during a soccer match at the Euro 2020 championships sent shockwaves across the stadium in his homeland Denmark and around the world.
Dr. Buhl is one of the few researchers in the world who have focused on the development of exercise-induced cardiac arrhythmias in trotters and riding horses. Her research has shown that equine athletes develop arrhythmias in accordance with human athletes.