Physicist Flavio Fenton Awarded Lectureship for Heart Arrhythmia Research

May 28, 2024

Flavio Fenton, a professor in the School of Physics, has been awarded the Douglas P. Zipes Lectureship Award by the Heart Rhythm Society for his groundbreaking research on arrhythmias. The award “honors a scientist or clinician who has made a significant and unique contribution to the field of cardiac pacing and electrophysiology.” Only one Lectureship is awarded each year.

Fenton uses physics to better understand how the heart functions — or malfunctions, as in the case of arrhythmias. Arrhythmias happen when a heart beats irregularly, and too slow or too fast. These contractions are cued by electrical signals — electrical signals that he has spent the last thirty years uncovering.

“I am extremely honored and grateful to have been selected for this award,” Fenton says. “It is really a privilege to join the list of recipients of this award, so many of whom I have long admired and whose research has formed and inspired me since my early days as a researcher. It is particularly meaningful for me to be recognized for my contributions to the study of cardiac arrhythmias by a society predominantly composed of medical doctors, especially given the unusual circumstance of a physicist receiving such an honor.”

Physics at the heart of it

By leveraging mathematical and computational models, along with conducting experiments, Fenton unravels the dynamics of voltage and calcium waves in the heart, and how their instabilities relate to arrhythmias — in particular the unique spiral waves associated with them. By combating these spiral waves with specifically-tailored electrical shocks, he has developed gentler, less-damaging methods than those traditionally-used in current defibrillators, which he hopes can be clinically applied in the future.

Fenton’s contributions to the field have also included new methods to visualize and study arrhythmias experimentally and the development of theoretical and computational tools, increasing the accessibility of cutting-edge computer simulations aimed at personalizing heart treatments. 

“I would like to dedicate this award to my mentors and collaborators Alain KarmaSteve EvansRobert Gilmour, and Elizabeth Cherry, as well as to all my students whose contributions have been invaluable and with whom I have had so much fun doing research,” he says. “This award is a testament to our collective work.”

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Written by Selena Langner