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Pioneering heart imaging technique may help improve heart disease diagnosis

Prof Firmin and Dr Scott
Prof Firmin and Dr Scott

Researchers in the NIHR Royal Brompton Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit are working on a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique, offering a unique insight into heart muscle structure in patients which may help improve heart disease diagnosis in the future.


A three year, £106,000 grant from Heart Research UK awarded to a team led by physicists Dr Andrew Scott and Professor David Firmin will fund research into the new MRI technique known as spiral cardiac diffusion tensor imaging.  This works by combining two MRI techniques: diffusion tensor imaging or DTI to provide information on muscle cell arrangement in the heart; and spiral MRI which is a very efficient way to collect image information and overcome the challenge of imaging the heart while it is beating. Initial work by the team has shown that the combination of these techniques has potential and the project will build on this to improve image detail and ensure the method is reliable.

 
The team has recently used DTI to look at abnormal changes in the heart muscle as the heart is beating in patients who have a disease that causes heart muscle thickening. However, the movement of the heart limits the detail that can be provided with current techniques, making it unsuitable patients with thinned heart muscle, which is a common symptom of many heart conditions. The new combined technique, spiral cardiac DTI, has the potential to be used to study other conditions where the heart muscle is thinner than normal.


Commenting on the project, Dr Scott said:
“Diffusion tensor imaging is routinely used to study connectivity in the brain, but using this technique to get images with enough detail while the heart is beating is very difficult. We think we can overcome this problem by combining this technique with another method used in cardiac MRI which allows us to capture more detailed images really quickly, in a snapshot before the heart has time to move. The information these methods provide is not available any other way and should provide a fascinating and valuable insight into heart muscle tissue damage.”


These pictures could prove very useful in cases where the heart muscle has thinned such as after a heart attack where they may allow doctors to more accurately assess the damage before deciding on the best treatment for the patient.

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