Cardiac arrest is a sudden disruption of the pumping action of the heart, which can be fatal. It was this instantaneous event that began the chain reaction motivating Spencer Lovegrove, a junior majoring in Biological Sciences, to commit to cardiac arrest research and an anticipated medical career.
Lovegrove was only in the sixth grade when his sister, Grace — an avid 18-year-old runner — collapsed in the street due to cardiac arrest during a 10-mile practice run.
“It pointed me in a certain direction because of what happened,” said Lovegrove, who decided in high school to pursue a medical career with a special interest in the miraculous condition that took his sister’s life.
Lovegrove is currently studying with the Fralin Life Science Institute Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program and is mentored by Steven Poelzing, an associate professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. Lovegrove began his independent experiments on June 19.
“We’re basically looking at how certain environmental conditions can influence sudden cardiac death,” Lovegrove said. “So, whether it would be the flu or something else that causes inflammation in the heart can influence how frequently cardiac death occurs.”
Lovegrove and other researchers use obstacle mapping to record conduction velocities of the heart after they use certain chemicals or proteins to induce edema – a condition cause by extra amounts of water in the heart. By running a dye through the heart, they can take pictures that allow them to see how fast electrical impulses are going through it. They are able to tell the amount of edema using a program that quantifies how much of the picture is cells and how much is extra-cellular space.
“So you can look at it and say, ‘Well the conduction velocity in this heart was not as good and had only 33 percent extracellular space versus this heart which had 12% extracellular space and had better conduction velocity,’” Lovegrove said. “That’s what we’re hoping to see, but we’re still researching.”
Lovegrove in particular will study the effects of flu on water in the heart by researching the connexin protein in sample hearts. This protein is responsible for keeping heart cells electrically responsive to each other when things like edema occur.
“We would just like to make people be more aware of certain conditions that could make this more likely to happen to them,” said Lovegrove, reporting high hopes for the future of the study.