A solution for broken
By Charles Feigenoff
Berne, now professor emeritus of physiology, discovered in the 1960s
that when muscles work hard, they produce adenosine, which causes
the surrounding blood vessels to dilate and increases the flow of
oxygen and needed nutrients to the muscles.
later learned that adenosine plays a role in regulating the heartbeat
as well. A natural pacemaker controls the rhythmic contractions
of the heart by sending a sequence of electrical impulses to each
of the heart's four chambers much the way a distributor in a car
engine sends a sequence of sparks to the proper cylinders. Adenosine
slows the heart by blocking the flow of current along the heart's
special conductive tissue.
saw the advantages of this effect in cases of supraventricular tachycardia,
or rapid, irregular heartbeats. "It's as if [the natural pacemaker]
has become stuck in the 'on' position," Berne says.
with his colleague Luiz Belardinelli, now with CV Therapeutics in
Palo Alto, Calif., Berne came up with the idea of injecting adenosine
into patients experiencing irregular heartbeats. Licensed under
the name Adenocard, the treatment is widely used by doctors and
emergency medical technicians in the United States and Great Britain.
Developed with research funding from the National Institutes of
Health, Adenocard has been the most profitable patent licensed by
the U.Va. Patent Foundation.
It has returned more than $26 million to the Patent Foundation,
the University and its inventors over the past 15 years.
of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the
National Academy of Sciences, Berne patented another use of adenosine
-- adding it to a solution used during open-heart surgery.