A team of scientists has developed a new test for heart disease detection that does not involve needles, contrast agents, nor ionizing radiation.
Ischemic heart disease (IHD) remains the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the western world. IHD occurs when blood vessels supplying the heart become narrowed, resulting in impaired blood and oxygen flow to the heart’s muscle. It is important to develop new and more effective diagnostic and prognostic strategies for IHD. Currently, there are several techniques doctors can use in the hospital to help diagnose patients with heart disease, including stress tests and echocardiography. These tests, however, are non-specific and cannot be relied upon independently. Clinicians can also use myocardial blood flow (MBF)-based methods that assess blood flow to the heart, including cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (CMR) in combination with radioactive chemicals or other contrast agents. These imaging techniques, however, are not entirely safe and cannot even be used in certain patient populations.
Recently, a team of scientists from Lawson Health Research Institute and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center led an international study that investigated a new approach for measuring how well the heart processes oxygen. The new technique, termed cardiac functional magnetic resonance imaging (cfMRI), uses a breathing machine to expose patients repeatedly to carbon dioxide in order to test how well the vessels deliver blood and oxygen to the heart. In a healthy individual, repeated exposure to carbon dioxide typically induces changes in blood flow to the heart. cfMRI detects these changes in blood flow and can be used to identify potential heart disease patients where these changes are not observed.
The authors used their cfMRI technique in a pre-clinical setting on eight healthy dogs and are currently in the process of testing whether the approach can be used reliably and accurately in detecting heart disease in patients. The new technique is unique in that it does not involve the use of needles, ionizing radiation, or other potentially harmful contrast agents. Given its non-invasive nature, cfMRI can be used on the same patient multiple times over a long period to monitor disease progression and the effectiveness of their treatments. This could further allow doctors to fine tune their patient’s medication as needed. This method also has potential use in other areas of research and medicine, for example, it could be used as a research tool to investigate how other factors, like chemotherapeutics, affect blood and oxygen flow to the heart.
Written by Haisam Shah, MSc Candidate
Reference: Yang, H. J., Oksuz, I., Dey, D., Sykes, J., Klein, M., Butler, J., … & Bi, X. (2019). Accurate needle-free assessment of myocardial oxygenation for ischemic heart disease in canines using magnetic resonance imaging. Science translational medicine, 11(494), eaat4407.