Organ malfunction, a potential cause of disease

This article deals with an advanced approach to organ malfunction and what

could be a potential cause of disease. The use of ‘phase space’ to represent

complex dimensional fields in a simplified manner also has correlations to the

study of over/unity devices, where a self-sustaining wave can be intentionally

triggered and maintained. We invite your comments on the subject.


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Science Digest – September 1995 (page 20)

Chaotic Body Rhythms

A biologist uses topology to link unrelated phenomena

Purdue biologist Arthur Winfree believes an underlying mathematical model that

describes two seemingly unrelated phenomena – the internal biological clock,

which determines sleep-wake cycles, and an obscure chemical process called the

Belousov-Zhabotinshky reaction – also describes a third: fibrillation, the

uncontrolled, erratic fluttering of the heart that is a major cause of sudden

cardiac death.

If he is right, fibrillation can result from such relatively mild, usually

harmless stimuli as the premature firing of a few nerves. Should it happen at

JUST THE WRONG MOMENT of the heartbeat cycle, it TRIGGERS a rotating, three

dimensional wave of electric potential that moves through coronary tissue.

This self-sustaining wave irrevocably overrides the heart’s normal, rhythmic

beating; even someone with a healthy heart is susceptible. In fact, this

could explain sudden heart failure in disease-free people.

Winfree is careful to emphasize that his ideas are unproven; yet they earned

him a grant from the MacArthur Foundation last November. He is currently on

leave from Purdue, working at the University of California, San Diego, and at

the La Jolla Veterans Administration Hospital. “I’m trying,” he explains, “to

learn some cardiology.”

The theory Winfree is pursuing rests on a branch of mathematics known as

TOPOLOGY, the study of the PROPERTIES OF GEOMETRIC SHAPES – and, by analogy,

of systems that can be represented by geometric shapes. “My original work on

the problem had to do with biological clocks,” he says.

Biologists had long believed that over the long term an organism would

alternate sleeping and waking at regular intervals. A disturbing stimulus,

such as a change in the pattern of light and darkness, might ADVANCE or RETARD

THE CYCLE without CHANGING its FUNDAMENTAL RHYTHM. In fact, this is just what

happened in experiments.

“I thought that might not be the whole story, though,” recalls Winfree. “The

cycle is governed by the INTERACTION of many chemical compounds at many

locations in the body. With topology, you can treat all those concentrations

as a space of many dimensions, called a PHASE SPACE. You needn’t define its

structure in DETAIL to examine its PROPERTIES.”

Winfree treated the sleep-wake cycle as a one-dimensional slice of this many-

dimensional phase space. He then described a two-dimensional slice, analogous

in structure to a soap film stretched on a circular metal wire. He defined

the wire as the ordinary rhythm – movement around the circle represents

passage through the cycle over time. The soap film is a set of POSSIBLE


In the case of a disruption, represented by a point on the film, the normal

rhythm resumes from some PREDICTABLE SPOT along the metal rim, just as a point

on a soap film rushes to a PARTICULAR spot on the rim when the film breaks.

“Nearly every spot on the film can be assigned a corresponding point on the

rim,” says Winfree. “But according to the topological theorem of

NONRETRACTION, this can be true only if there is at least one point on the

surface that does NOT have such a correspondence. A soap bubble cannot

retract onto the rim unless you break it at some point.” By analogy, Winfree

predicted, there should be a point in the sleep-wake cycle where an applied

stimulus would not RESTART the cycle but would result in an ARRHYTHMIC


“Eric Patterson, a graduate student in biology, tried it on mosquitoes,” he

says, “and found we could PRODUCE a state in which the insects slept, then

woke and buzzed around for a while, then dropped off again, in no DISCERNIBLE


Winfree wondered whether it might be possible to treat other rhythmic

biochemical systems the same way. “Since the mathematical model is abstract,”

explains Winfree, “there seemed to be no reason it couldn’t apply to such

things as rhythmic chemical reactions, the cycle of cell reproduction, the

menstrual cycle or even fibrillation.”

The jury is still out on menstruation; the analogy just doesn’t work when it

comes to cell reproduction. In the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction, though, a

TRIGGERING BEAM of ultraviolet light interrupts the orderly interaction of a

mixture of chemicals, sending a ROTATING WAVE FRONT of activity through them.

“We can’t say for sure, but the evidence is very good that the same sort of

thing goes on in the heart,” Winfree concludes. “The contraction of millions

of heart cells, based on combinations of electrical and chemical stimuli, make

up the phase space. And a mild stimulus occurring AT THE PROPER TIME should

disrupt the pattern ENTIRELY.”

Does the mathematical model have a basis in reality? Two pieces of evidence

suggest it does. The first is that electrodes placed on the surface of

laboratory animals’ hearts have detected what APPEAR to be the ROTATING SPIRAL

WAVES of electricity that Winfree predicts.

The second comes from the work of George Ralph Mines, a physiologist who did

heart research at the University of Montreal in the early years of this

century. Mines suspected that fibrillation could be caused by mild stimuli to

the heart, though he had no theory to explain it. He may have been proved

right. One day, in 1917, he was found alone in his lab, dying of heart

failure. Attached to his chest were the wires of a machine he had been using

to deliver weak shocks to lab animals.

Michael D. Lemonick