New Clinical Trial Shows Non-Invasive, Self-Administered Ear-Clip Therapy Suppresses Atrial Fibrillation

Novel approach could change the way patients are treated for the common cardiac arrhythmia

Press Release
Written by: HRS

SAN FRANCISCO, May 9, 2019 – A randomized clinical trial effectively uses nerve stimulation through an ear clip to reduce atrial fibrillation (AF) burden and showcases an emerging noninvasive treatment option for patients. The trial is the first to examine the effect of transcutaneous electrical vagus nerve stimulation on suppressing AF. The results of the TREAT AF clinical trial were presented today at Heart Rhythm 2019, the Heart Rhythm Society’s 40th Annual Scientific Sessions.

AF is the most common abnormal heart rhythm condition. It affects more than 33.5 million individuals around the world and this number is expected to continue to rise.1 Device vagus nerve stimulation has been successfully implemented to treat epilepsy and is a treatment option approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Approximately one third of people do not respond fully to anti-seizure drugs and nerve stimulation has become an option for these patients.2 This clinical trial sought to better understand if this treatment option could work for patients suffering from AF.

The TREAT AF trial is a sham-controlled, double-blind, randomized clinical trial designed to examine the effect of low-level transcutaneous electrical stimulation of the auricular branch of the vagus nerve at the tragus (LLTS) on AF burden over a six-month period. LLTS was delivered using an ear clip attached to either tragus (active; n=26) or the ear lobe (sham; n=27). The patients received individual training and used the device for one hour every day for six months. AF burden over two-week periods was assessed by noninvasive continuous ECG monitoring at baseline, three and six months and heart rate variability based on five minutes ECG readings and serum cytokines were measured at the respective time points. Baseline characteristics including age, gender and stroke risk were similar between the two groups.

Adherence to the stimulation protocol was 75 percent in the active arm and 83 percent in the sham arm. At six months, the median AF burden was reduced by 85 percent in the active arm compared to the sham. After combining across the three- and six-month time points, the median AF burden was reduced by 75 percent in the active arm compared to the sham arm.

"Our clinical trial introduces a novel self-administered, non-invasive therapy for patients newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. There are cases when drug therapy or surgery are not the optimal options, so this has the potential to serve as another approach for patients," said lead author Stavros Stavrakis, MD, PhD, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. "It was encouraging to see the significant reduction in AF burden and that the device was well received in terms of adherence rate. This approach opens the door to a new way of thinking about AF management and showcases that we can push boundaries to help advance patient care."

The authors of this study call for trials in a multi-center setting with larger populations. Through additional research, the authors also hope to pinpoint exactly which patients would benefit the most from this therapy approach.

Images of the device are available upon request.

Sessions Details:
"Late-Breaking Clinical Trials 1: Transcutaneous Electrical Vagus Nerve Stimulation To Suppress Atrial Fibrillation (TREAT AF): A Randomized Clinical" [May 9, 2019, 8:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m., Room 24]

The Heart Rhythm Society's 40th Annual Scientific Sessions convenes the finest clinicians, scientists, researchers, and innovators in the field of cardiac pacing and electrophysiology. More than 700 of the world's most notable experts in cardiac rhythm management serve as faculty for over 250 educational sessions while more than 150 exhibitors showcase innovative products and services. Attendees can anticipate an enhanced experience with advanced learning formats and new opportunities for networking. For more information, visit www.hrssessions.org .

1 Sumeet S. Chugh et al., "Worldwide Epidemiology of Atrial Fibrillation", Circulation.2014;129:837–847
2 Epilepsy Foundation. "Vagus Nerve Stimulation." Epilepsy.com. https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/treating- seizures-and-epilepsy/devices/vagus-nerve-stimulation-vns

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About the Heart Rhythm Society

The Heart Rhythm Society is the international leader in science, education, and advocacy for cardiac arrhythmia professionals and patients, and the primary information resource on heart rhythm disorders. Its mission is to improve the care of patients by promoting research, education, and optimal health care policies and standards. Incorporated in 1979 and based in Washington, DC, it has a membership of more than 6,000 heart rhythm professionals in more than 72 countries around the world. For more information, visit www.HRSonline.org.

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