Dr Rebecca Perry

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New heart imaging technology could save lives

Heart Foundation researcher Dr Rebecca Perry is currently working on a new heart imaging technology that could help predict and even prevent cardiac deaths. This exciting technology will enable doctors to better determine the risk of sudden cardiac death without the need for expensive or invasive tests.

The new technology, called strain imaging, will better identify patients in need of an internal cardiac defibrillator (ICD). An ICD is used to treat people with life-threateningly abnormal heart rhythms. It gives the heart electric pulses or shocks to get the rhythm back to normal. Improved identification of patients in need of an ICD will ensure that those who have suffered mild to moderate heart failure, and are at risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD), could now receive this life saving device. Early identification and intervention of this kind has the potential to save a significant number of lives in the future.

Dr Perry’s study is part of a larger international project called CMR GUIDE HF (Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance Guided management of mild-moderate left ventricular systolic Heart Failure). The project seeks to adjust current guidelines and expand the parameters of those eligible to receive an ICD by selecting patients based on cardiac MRI abnormalities.

Current guidelines do not allow for those who have suffered from mild to moderate heart failure to receive an ICD. However, the majority of patients that succumb to sudden cardiac death, fall within this group.

Patients who have experienced mild to moderate heart failure often have damage to their heart, in the form of scarring or fibrosis of the muscle. This puts them at greater risk of suffering from sudden cardiac death. However, it is often hard to see this damage using current imaging technology, such as a cardiac ultrasound (also known as echocardiography or echo). In order to see it patients would need to have a cardiac MRI.

The presents a major challenge as MRIs are expensive and not readily available, especially to those living in regional and rural areas.  The strain imaging technology Dr Perry is researching has the potential to remove the need for an MRI and could identify this scarring and tissue damage much more efficiently. Resulting in a less expensive and more accessible process which will ultimately saves lives.

Dr Perry hopes her research will change international and national clinical guidelines as well as the processes that determine which patients receive an internal cardiac defibrillator.

“If we can use advanced heart imaging to show which patients may suffer from a life-threatening heart rhythm, then it is possible that this research could increase survival in this growing patient population.”