Imaging heart muscle structure could give clues to heart disease


Researchers are to develop a new heart imaging technique that could help give a more accurate diagnosis of heart disease.

A team at Royal Brompton Hospital and Imperial College London, UK, have been given a three-year grant of just over £106,000 by national charity Heart Research UK to carry out the research into MRI techniques that will map heart muscle cell structure more accurately and in greater detail than ever before.

This could be particularly useful in cases where the heart muscle has thinned after a heart attack, and the team, led by David Firmin and Andrew Scott, will look to improve the detail of these images so the damage to the muscle can be more accurately assessed, and the best treatments applied.

The new MRI techniques will be tested in a group of healthy volunteers and compared to existing techniques before applying them to the hearts of patients who have had a heart attack.

Andrew Scott said the new imaging technique has the potential to be extended to other diseases of the heart. “A similar method is already widely used to look at the brain and we have already done some work on applying this technique, known as diffusion tensor imaging, in the heart. The information these scans provide is not available any other way but because the heart beats and moves while the patient breathes it makes it difficult to collect the detailed images we require.

“We are now combining techniques like those that are used for the brain with a spiral MRI technique that allows us to collect more detailed images while the heart beats. This will give us more information on the heart muscle structure, particularly where there is thinned heart muscle as a result of disease.”

As well as new insights into the way diseases affect the heart, it is hoped that using these new MRI techniques will also provide earlier diagnosis of some conditions and be used to monitor the response of the heart muscle to treatment.

Barbara Harpham, national director of Heart Research UK, said: “This project at Royal Brompton and Imperial College could provide doctors with more accurate information about the heart and allow them to prescribe more targeted treatment. Our aim at Heart Research UK is to fund research that benefits patients as soon as possible. This latest grant brings the amount we have funded on research projects in London to £2.6m over the past 10 years.”