ECU doctoral student secures national grant to screen area residents for stroke risk

An East Carolina University doctoral student in clinical health psychology has secured one of eight national grants from the Heart Rhythm Society to screen area residents for atrial fibrillation (AFib) and stroke risk using smartphone electrocardiogram (ECG) technology.

Caley Kropp earned the $20,000 AFib Screening Initiative grant on behalf of the Department of Psychology to use FDA-approved, smartphone-based ECG technology. He and his team will administer community-based screenings for AFib, a predominant stroke risk factor, at area pharmacies. People who have common risk factors for stroke—including obesity, sleep apnea, hypertension and diabetes—will be given screenings, education and other resources to address those problems. 

Kropp’s co-investigators include Dr. Ashley Burch, an experimental psychologist who recently completed a post-doctoral position at ECU, is a research associate professor at and fellow doctoral student Nichelle Huber. Under the guidance of Dr. Samuel F. Sears, professor in the departments of psychology and cardiovascular sciences and director of doctoral studies in the Department of Psychology, at least 250 volunteer participants will be screened at rural pharmacies in Greenville, Ayden, Wilson and beyond during the next six months. Participants will also be provided education on atrial fibrillation, and, if necessary, referrals to primary care and/or heart-health specialists. 

“When I first heard we had been awarded the grant, I was excited and just really proud of our research team,” Kropp said. “This is a home run for us because we’re looking to become more involved in AFib research. We put together what we thought would be the best plan to screen as many people as possible in a rural setting.”

Participants—who have not been previously diagnosed with atrial fibrillation but have two or more risk factors—will be screened using AliveCor Incorporated’s Kardia Mobile device, which connects to a smartphone and takes a 1-lead ECG at the participant’s fingertips in just 30 seconds. The students will be able to detect atrial fibrillation from the reading, raising a nearly instantaneous red flag for those at high risk for strokes.

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Originally published Aug. 24, 2017. Written by Spaine Stephens. Photos by Rhett Butler

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