Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2015

Author's Department

Biomedical Engineering

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



After a century of research, atrial fibrillation (AF) remains a challenging disease to study and exceptionally resilient to treatment. Unfortunately, AF is becoming a massive burden on the health care system with an increasing population of susceptible elderly patients and expensive unreliable treatment options. Pharmacological therapies continue to be disappointingly ineffective or are hampered by side effects due to the ubiquitous nature of ion channel targets throughout the body. Ablative therapy for atrial tachyarrhythmias is growing in acceptance. However, ablation procedures can be complex, leading to varying levels of recurrence, and have a number of serious risks. The high recurrence rate could be due to the difficulty of accurately predicting where to draw the ablation lines in order to target the pathophysiology that initiates and maintains the arrhythmia or an inability to distinguish sub-populations of patients who would respond well to such treatments.

There are electrical cardioversion options but there is not a practical implanted deployment

of this strategy. Under the current bioelectric therapy paradigm there is a trade-off between

efficacy and the pain and risk of myocardial damage, all of which are positively correlated with shock strength. Contrary to ventricular fibrillation, pain becomes a significant concern for electrical defibrillation of AF due to the fact that a patient is conscious when experiencing the arrhythmia. Limiting the risk of myocardial injury is key for both forms of fibrillation. In this project we aim to address the limitations of current electrotherapy by diverging from traditional single shock protocols. We seek to further clarify the dynamics of arrhythmia drivers in space and to target therapy in both the temporal and spatial domain; ultimately culminating in the design of physiologically guided applied energy protocols.

In an effort to provide further characterization of the organization of AF, we used transillumination optical mapping to evaluate the presence of three-dimensional electrical substrate variations within the transmural wall during acutely induced episodes of AF. The results of this study suggest that transmural propagation may play a role in AF maintenance mechanisms, with a demonstrated range of discordance between the epicardial and endocardial dynamic propagation patterns. After confirming the presence of epi-endo dyssynchrony in multiple animal models, we further investigated the anatomical structure to look for regional trends in transmural fiber orientation that could help explain the spectrum of observed patterns. Simultaneously, we designed and optimized a multi-stage, multi-path defibrillation paradigm that can be tailored to individual AF frequency content in the spatial and temporal domain. These studies continue to drive down the defibrillation threshold of electrotherapies in an attempt to achieve a pain-free AF defibrillation solution. Finally, we designed and characterized a novel platform of stretchable electronics that provide instrumented membranes across the epicardial surface or implanted within the transmural wall to provide physiological feedback during electrotherapy beyond just the electrical state of the tissue. By combining a spatial analysis of the arrhythmia drivers, the energy delivered and the resulting damage, we hope to enhance the biophysical understanding of AF electrical cardioversion and xiii

design an ideal targeted energy delivery protocol to improve upon all limitations of current electrotherapy.


English (en)


Igor R Efimov

Committee Members

Dennis Barbour, Dan Moran, Yoram Rudy, Richard Schuessler


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