Dr. Stacey Rentschler and Colleagues Receive NIH Grant to Fund Study on Radiation Therapy for VT Patients

Stacey Rentschler, MD, PhD in collaboration with many other Washington University researchers within and outside the cardiovascular division recently received an NIH grant totaling over $3 million to further study a major breakthrough in a non-invasive treatment for ventricular tachycardia.

The grant follows a 2021clinical study from Washington University School of Medicine brought together cardiologists, engineers, radiologists, and radiation oncologists to invent a novel and noninvasive radiation therapy to treat ventricular tachycardia. Building upon this groundbreaking discovery using focused radiation to treat scarred parts of the heart which harbor electrical short-circuits, the team of researchers studied the electrical effects of radiation therapy in hearts from mice and humans who had undergone heart transplantation.

The study, which appeared in Nature Communications, found that radiation therapy targeted at the heart surprisingly can fix electrical problems that cause life-threatening arrhythmias. “Arrhythmias often happen because of slow electrical conduction speeds around and through scar,” says lead investigator Stacey L. Rentschler, MD, PhD. “Radiation therapy seems to kick up the speed faster by activating early developmental pathways that revert the diseased heart tissue back into a healthier state.” Specifically, scientists found that a single dose of radiation treatment temporarily activated Notch signaling, a developmental pathway that plays a significant role in the formation of the heart’s electrical conduction system.

The grant will allow the researchers to continue their studies of the radiation therapy, and allow multiple model systems, including mice, large animals, and humans.