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Doctor to study emerging treatments in atrial fibrillation overseas

The Heart Foundation has awarded Wellington doctor Allan Plant an Overseas Training and Research Fellowship to work in France where he will learn the latest technology with the team who developed catheter ablation treatment for atrial fibrillation (AF), a common heart rhythm problem.

Allan will spend 18 months at CHU Haut Leveque in Bordeaux where he will learn a new ablation technique called pulsed-field ablation. The new technique can drastically reduce operative time and improve safety, and its application to a new strategy of ablation for persistent AF called the Marshall-PLAN was developed by the team at Haut-Leveque.

"The institution is widely regarded as one of the founding centres of catheter ablation for AF," explains Allan.

Conventional techniques of catheter ablation use either heat (radiofrequency ablation) or freezing (cryoablation) to destroy a small area of heart tissue that is causing irregular heart rhythms, also called arrhythmias.

"I feel so fortunate to be able to gain clinical skills at the forefront of a new wave of ablation technology. I want to use these to help advance cardiology and improve the care of New Zealanders with atrial fibrillation."

The emerging technique of pulsed field ablation uses non-thermal electrical pulses to create tiny pores in the heart muscle that generate scars. It's fast and efficient and selectively ablates heart tissue without injuring surrounding tissues. This technique is predicted to become an alternative to some conventional ablation technologies.

The persistent form of AF, however, is often less responsive to ablation. Haut-Leveque is leading the way in addressing this by developing an ablation method (the Marshall-PLAN), which shows promise in improving ablation outcomes.

Allan plans to study the intersection of these two techniques, particularly how the use of pulsed field ablation could reduce the lengthy operating time.

Haut-Leveque also run a renowned research programme in electrophysiology (study of the electrical activity of the heart) which gives Allan the opportunity to be involved in the ongoing research and development of these techniques.

Emerging technology improves AF treatment

As the number of New Zealanders living with AF increases, cardiology services face a growing number of patients requiring specialist care. Early AF treatment is better for patients, but currently AF ablation is only done at the larger hospitals in New Zealand which provide more complex medical care. 

The pulsed field ablation technique has been shown to reduce treatment time in overseas hospitals. The first pulsed field ablation treatment in New Zealand was performed at Waikato Hospital in August this year. 

Widespread introduction of this technology could see waiting lists dramatically decrease thanks to the speed of the new treatment.  

"The Heart Foundation fellowship makes it possible for me to take this opportunity to achieve exposure at the forefront of the electrophysiology field," explains Allan. "I want to bring this knowledge and experience to improve heart health outcomes for all New Zealanders."