Heart shape: Student’s research finds help for heart diagnosis

April 9, 2010

A physics major's passion for medicine led her into research that could help heart patients in the future.

From the time Kelly Loman was a child, she wanted to follow her father into the medical field.

"As I got older, I wanted to give back to people and medicine," said the sophomore from Shelbyville, a Rural Health Scholar at Indiana State University.

Loman began giving back through her research project by conducting a numerical analysis of EKG signals. She found a way to graph EKG signals that could detect possible problems before they occur. She recently presented her results during the American Physical Society meeting to great interest from other scientists.

"We know there are lots of EKG data available for each patient, but the problem is that this huge volume of data makes it hard to detect any minute and subtle patterns that may be fatal to a patient," said Guoping Zhang, associate professor of physics, who oversaw Loman's research.

Traditionally, doctors use the Fourier transform method that computes a generic pattern from the EKG signals.

"This works for some cases, but it is not very satisfactory," Zhang said.

Loman spent the summer of 2009 crunching numbers from EKG signals.

"It was very tedious," she said.

But also rewarding when she found a healthy person's heart creates essentially a straight line shape, while arrhythmia EKGs, pulled from a research database, create an elephant trunk shape.

"It finds the smallest fluctuation and shows it," she said. "There are other formulas but they are not physician friendly. Ours is. When you see this shape (such as the elephant trunk), it's the onset and you can catch it now."

Loman said other Indiana State researchers will continue working to establish patterns using the formula.

"If you start seeing patterns then you're doing something really right or really wrong," she said.

It all seems to be going right for Loman, who plans to attend medical school. Loman enjoyed the research and the opportunity to find answers, especially answers that could help heart patients.

"We think this is potentially useful to medical applications," Zhang said.

Which means in the future, Loman could be using her own research to help her patients.

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Contact: Guoping Zhang, Indiana State University, associate professor of physics, at 812-237-2044 or gpzhang@indstate.edu

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or Jennifer.Sicking@indstate.edu

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/829583680_RpwiU-D.jpg

Cutline: Kelly Loman