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British Heart Foundation funds research into MRI scar imaging in the heart

14 March 2018

Dr Jenny Keeganprincipal physicist in the cardiovascular magnetic resonance unit at Royal Brompton Hospital and adjunct reader at Imperial College, has been awarded a research grant from the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

The award of £240,000 will fund her project to develop new techniques of improving the imaging of scar tissue in patients with arrhythmia.

Arrhythmia, or heart rhythm disturbance, can be investigated or treated using an electrophysiology (EP) study, which tests the electrical activity of the heart to find where the arrhythmia is coming from.

Scar tissue in the heart may be used to guide the EP study and to assess the result, and it can be imaged using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). 

Importantly, however, the MRI images in EP studies need to be very detailed and they can take five to ten minutes to complete: if the patient’s heart rate changes during the scan, the image quality can be poor and – as a result – it is not always possible to assess the scar tissue. 

During this study, the team will monitor heart rate and make ‘real-time’ changes to the way the MRI images are obtained. They will perform detailed testing using computer simulations and perform imaging of test objects with programmable ‘heart rate variability’ before applying the technique to patients. 

They aim to study two patient groups:

  • those with atrial fibrillation, which is the most common heart rhythm disturbance and
  • those with adult congenital heart disease, where scarring from previous surgery may be the source of arrhythmia.

If successful, this new technique will improve image quality which will lead to better guidance and assessment of EP studies.

Dr Keegan said: “Improving the quality of MRI scar imaging in patients with arrhythmia will allow us to generate personalised 3D models for use in EP procedures designed to investigate or treat arrhythmia. My colleagues – Professor David Firmin, Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan and Dr Tom Wong – and I are delighted to receive this award from BHF.”

The project will be carried out at the Trust's cardiovascular magnetic resonance unit. Research in the unit ranges from basic physics to clinical application. It involves a dedicated multidisciplinary team comprising of physicists, image processing scientists, clinical researchers, clinicians, technicians and support staff.

The study is expected to start in July 2018.

If you would like to find out more about this project or any of our other research please email us.

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