Get the picture
Imaging researchers seek best way to see a beating heart
Story by Greg Kennedy; Photo by Stephen Wreakes
February 28, 2012, EDMONTON — Time is muscle when it comes to heart injury — and getting a fast, accurate diagnostic image means proper treatment sooner to help ensure the best possible outcome for the patient.
Research on how to take the best snapshot of a beating heart is underway at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute, thanks to a $300,000 grant from the University Hospital Foundation.
“We’re seeking to discover the heart imaging technique that offers the best care and long-term health for our patients,” says principal investigator Dr. Harald Becher, an Alberta Health Services (AHS) cardiologist and the Heart and Stroke Foundation Chair for Cardiovascular Research at the University of Alberta.
“Down the road, this will allow us to care for more heart patients because it’ll minimize the need to image a heart multiple times using different methods, saving time and expediting treatment.”
At present, diagnostic images of the heart are taken in one of three ways:
- Nuclear perfusion: A radioactive tracer injected into the bloodstream that assesses any reduction of blood supply to the heart. This is the most commonly used method.
- Stress echocardiography: A non-invasive ultrasound to examine cardiac function; newer state-of-the-art devices can render a live 3-D image of the inside of a beating heart.
- CT coronary angiography: X-ray computed tomography – a computer-blended, 3-D image comprised of multiple two-dimensional X-ray images taken from different angles – is used to reveal the heart’s inner workings.
Over the next two years, this research trial will randomly assign 300 Mazankowski patients to one of the three imaging methods. Doctors will review the patients’ long-term health results, comparing the results of each type of imaging against the others. At present, cardiologists wonder if some tests pick up too much or too little information.
“In our research inquiry, the patient is central. We’re asking: what is the gain for the patient?” says Dr. Becher, who left an Oxford University post as Professor of Cardiac Ultrasound two years ago to further his research in Edmonton. “Over the last 20 years, we were very excited by technical developments but now we wish to link imaging and diagnostics more to treatment and patient care.”
Funding for the Innovative Team Research Grant Competition comes from donors to the University Hospital Foundation.
“Many of our donors are former patients, grateful for the care they have received at the Maz,” says Joyce Mallman Law, President of the University Hospital Foundation. “Patients and their families recognize the tremendous impact research has on the way patients are treated at this facility, and want to ensure future patients continue to benefit from the latest technology and procedures. This research, in particular, is a tremendous example of the power of philanthropy to change and save lives by directly connecting research to patient care.”
Over 35,000 patients are treated every year at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute. More than 1,200 open heart surgeries are performed annually.
“I became excited about Edmonton by visiting and seeing the kind of technology and facilities you have here, particularly in ultrasound. It is incomparable,” says Dr. Becher. “It’s a tremendous place. I can’t be grateful enough to the University Hospital Foundation for their support of this research opportunity. I believe our work will pay back the health care system with knowledge that will improve patient management within the next five years.”