Five ways exciting new technologies could transform heart care

Clinicians and researchers are pushing the envelope to better diagnose, treat and prevent heart and circulatory diseases. Here are five ways BHF-funded research into new technologies could transform care for your patients.


25 Jan 2018, by Siobhan Chan

Research into innovative technologies plays an important role in developing new ways of treating and preventing heart and circulatory diseases.

The BHF, as the single biggest independent funder of cardiovascular research in the UK, pumps more than £100 million a year into pioneering work to improve patient outcomes, including cutting-edge research into new technologies.

We present five BHF-funded research projects that could change the way you treat your patients in the future – some of which are already being rolled out in pilot areas.

1. Personalised heart models to aid surgery

3D printed models of hearts on a table

Scientists at University College London have created 3D-printed models of the heart from MRI scans of children with congenital heart disease to aid patient communication ahead of surgery.

The patient-specific models help doctors better explain the nature of the heart disorder to patients and their families, who say the 3D models are “incredibly useful” and “realistic and much easier to understand”1 compared to traditional medical imaging, such as echocardiograms. The research team believes this boosts parents’ understanding of the condition and helps them engage with the surgical team.

The same team is working with Great Ormond Street Hospital to produce computer simulations to plan surgery for children born with heart defects. They hope that this personalised approach will help surgeons work with families to decide on the best treatment for the child.

2. Medicine skin patch to improve stroke survival

Paramedic in ambulance with a patient on a stretcher 

Could a simple skin patch, applied in an ambulance in the crucial minutes after a patient suffers a suspected stroke, improve their survival chances?

Researchers at the University of Nottingham are testing whether the patch, which delivers the drug glyceryl trinitrate to widen blood vessels and lower blood pressure to reduce damage caused by stroke, can improve patient outcomes.

Treating patients on the way to hospital means the medicine is administered quickly, saving vital time and potentially aiding recovery.

Seven ambulance services are now trialling the patch on patients and tracking their recoveries. Commencing treatment within an hour could revolutionise stroke care and encourage worldwide adoption, according to the researchers.

“If the trial is positive and the patch is safe and improves outcome after stroke, then it can be used by anyone, typically paramedics in the ambulance, nurses and doctors at admission to hospital or at the general practitioner’s surgery, or in places where conventional medical care is not available,” says project lead Professor Philip Bath from the University of Nottingham.

3. Injectable heart-rhythm monitors for heart failure patients

Printed sheets showing ECG traces

Many of the half a million patients with heart failure in the UK experience abnormal heart rhythms, which can be too fast, too slow, or irregular.

Scientists are exploring how the irregular heart rhythms affect heart failure patients’ health and how they may be linked to hospital readmission or death.

ECG recordings typically used to assess heart rhythm only give a quick snapshot – researchers want to track heart rhythms over a longer period of time to better understand the effect on these patients’ health.

BHF-funded researchers are testing injectable cardiac monitors in Scottish hospitals. These are tiny devices that are implanted under the skin to record heart rhythm.

They’ll monitor the hearts of 500 patients for two years to see whether their arrhythmia can predict hospital admissions or death. If there is a link, the research will help us understand how to intervene earlier, before heart failure patients’ health declines dramatically.

4. Nanomaterials to lower cholesterol

Rendering of red blood cells struggling to move down blocked blood vessel

Statins usually circulate through the body, but don’t always reach high-enough levels where they are needed to prevent fatty deposits building up. They can also affect other tissues and muscles, making some patients intolerant.

Scientists are exploring the use of nanomaterials to deliver cholesterol-lowering drugs exactly to where they are needed most. These incredibly small but stable molecules can carry drugs through the body to specific sites, then biodegrade once the payload of drugs has been delivered.

Researchers at the University of Surrey hope to develop these materials, test them, and see whether they’re safe for patients. If successful, these nanomaterials could offer a new therapy for people with high cholesterol levels who cannot tolerate current treatments such as statins.

5. Artificial intelligence to interpret heart scans

Binary code scrolling downwards

Heart conditions can affect each patient differently and it can be hard to predict when someone’s condition will progress, and whether they’ll need to be admitted to hospital.

Researchers at Imperial College London are training an artificial intelligence system to interpret heart scans and recognise early signs of heart failure, so patients can receive timely treatment.

They’ll feed the AI with thousands of heart scans from patients with dilated cardiomyopathy and pulmonary arterial hypertension – conditions that can lead to heart failure – to see how these conditions progress and whether it’s possible to predict when a patient is likely to need treatment.

If this reveals a better way to predict how heart failure progresses, it could lay the foundations for introducing AI into heart treatment.

Project lead Dr Declan O’Regan from Imperial College London says: “Making accurate personalised predictions about patients with heart disease could transform how we deliver healthcare.  

“AI shows enormous potential for analysing complex moving images of the heart and our research is bridging the gap between the latest developments in computer technology and improving outcomes for patients.”


Check out our Update blog for more on medical science in CVD, and read the BHF’s Medium blog on research into heart and circulatory disease.

 

References

1 Biglino G, Capelli C, Wray J, et al. 3D-manufactured patient-specific models of congenital heart defects for communication in clinical practice: feasibility and acceptability. BMJ Open 2015. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2014-007165