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New tool developed to image heart disease

Friday 31st May 2019
Researchers have developed a cardiac functional MRI scan that is non-invasive to patients.
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The leading cause of death in the western world is heart disease brought on by a lack of blood flow to the cardiac muscles. Unfortunately, diagnosing this requires patients to undergo an MRI after having been injected with a radioactive or contrast material that will show the disease.

This is not suitable for many people, particularly those with kidney issues, and there are some small risks associated with the procedure. However, a team of researchers might have put a stop to this by developing a new form of imaging that is non invasive and therefore doesn’t require any kind of injection.

The cardiac functional MRI (cfMRI) scan uses a breathing machine to expose the heart to increased levels of carbon dioxide in order to see how well blood vessels are delivering oxygen to its muscles. This type of scan has been tried before, but always resulted in blurry images due to a high level of ‘noise’.

Dr Rohan Dharmakumar, associate director of the Biomedical Imaging Research Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and leader of the development project, realised this noise could actually be variation in how the heart was processing oxygen. By averaging this, he and his team were able to use it to measure how well the heart was working.

“We’ve opened the door to a new era and totally novel way of doing cardiac stress testing to identify patients with ischemic heart disease,” said Dr Dharmakumar. “This approach overcomes the limitations of all the current diagnostics – there would no longer be a need for injections or physical stress testing like running on treadmills.”

It’s thought this test could also be used to study other cases involving blood flow to the heart. For example, cancer treatments that can damage the heart could be easily assessed. Because it is non-invasive and requires no chemicals, the cfMRI can be done multiple times on the same patient with no added risk.

Written by Matthew Horton

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