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New imaging techniques to detect heart problems

New imaging techniques that can pinpoint the severity of a patient’s heart disease are being researched by a team at King’s College London thanks to a Novel and Emerging Technologies grant from national heart charity Heart Research UK.

It is hoped that the research will lead to more accurate detection of areas of the heart with poor blood supply or has been damaged, allowing specialists to assess the severity of coronary artery disease so they can monitor it and patients can benefit more quickly from treatment.

The team, based in the Cardiovascular and Imaging Sciences & Biomedical Engineering Divisions at King’s, led by Dr Richard Siow, has been awarded £190,877 from Heart Research UK for a two-year project starting in March. 

About 20 per cent of the air we breathe is oxygen, whilst levels in blood supplying the heart are between 3 and 6 per cent.  However, in coronary artery disease, where the blood supply to the heart becomes restricted, levels of oxygen may be as low as 1 to 3 per cent.  

This causes changes within the tissue and the build-up of damaging by-products such as free radicals which can lead to cardiovascular disease such as atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke.

Dr Siow said: ‘Doctors are keen to develop new ways of imaging the human heart without the need for invasive medical tests. Our project involves an advanced imaging technique which produces detailed three-dimensional pictures showing how tissues and organs are working.  

‘The aim of our research is to come up with a more accurate way of detecting damage to the heart so that interventions can happen quicker – and give a better outcome for the patient.’

The project involves an advanced imaging technique called positron emission tomography (PET) which produces detailed three-dimensional pictures showing how tissues and organs are working.    The team will develop new ‘probes’ –  tracer molecules which they will use to image human heart and blood vessel cells grown in culture.  The multidisciplinary King’s team, which includes Giovanni Mann, Professor of Vascular Physiology, and Philip Blower, Chair in Imaging Chemistry, will study how the probes accumulate in the cells, and how this is affected by oxidative stress such as occurs in heart disease.

Professor Ajay Shah, Director of the King’s College London British Heart Foundation Centre of Research Excellence, within which this project will be conducted, said: ‘The development of novel imaging approaches to assess heart disease is an important aim of our Centre and this project fits very well within this theme.’

Heart Research UK National Director, Barbara Harpham, said: ‘Anything that gives doctors a more accurate diagnosis of a patient’s condition has to be a positive step forward, and the King’s team’s work will develop state of the art imaging that will help to do this.

‘Our aim is to support research that will have as much benefit to patients as quickly as possible, so we hope that Dr Siow and the team will be able to successfully progress this so that it will help people with heart disease to live healthier, happier and longer lives.’

For further information contact Chris Child, Heart Research UK on 0113 297 6207

About Heart Research UK

Heart Research UK is a visionary charity that funds ground-breaking medical research into the prevention, treatment and cure of heart disease.  

Having funded six of the first eight successful UK heart transplants, Heart Research UK has been helping hearts by supporting clinical and surgical projects and young researchers on their first steps into research. In the last 10 years the charity has funded over £10.6m on research projects in hospitals and universities across the UK as well as £1.2m on community-based lifestyle projects that aim to prevent or reduce the risks of heart disease.  What’s raised locally is spent locally.