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Imaging techniques applied to coronary artery disease research

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Researchers in London are carrying out a study to test whether magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques can be used to determine which patients with a potential reduction in blood flow to their heart muscle (stable coronary artery disease) should undergo a procedure (known as revascularisation) to have their blood circulation restored by unblocking obstructed blood vessels. The procedure involves blowing up a balloon in the blood vessel, and in the more severe cases, by replacing the blood vessel during surgery.

The £1m study, which is being carried out at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) comprehensive Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London, will involve up to 800 patients, most of whom live in London and the surrounding areas.

Professor Eike Nagel, Professor of Clinical Cardiovascular Imaging at King's College London, said: 'Through this study we hope to conclusively establish whether non-invasive imaging can be used to determine which patients with stable coronary artery disease should be revascularised.  Currently, clinicians either use radioactive tracers (nuclear medicine) or measure coronary artery flow with a wire placed in heart vessels to assess the need for this. Both techniques require that patients are exposed to radiation and the latter is an invasive procedure.'

Professor Nagel's research team is seeking to determine whether non-invasive state-of-the-art high-resolution magnetic resonance perfusion scanning can be used to assess the need for revascularisation among patients with stable coronary artery disease, thereby improving patient outcomes compared with the existing standard approach. By following up patients for two years and looking for the occurrence of major cardiac events and new scar tissue, researchers will be able to compare results for both options and establish whether non-invasive imaging can replace the previous tests.

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