New imaging technique leads to promising results for experimental heart attack drug

5 June 2017        

Category: Research

MRI scanner

Every day 190 people in the UK die from a heart attack. Researchers in Oxford have used a scanning method to develop a new drug which may help hearts heal.

The scientists unveiled their promising work on a new drug to help patients who have suffered a heart attack. Presenting at the British Cardiovascular Society’s annual conference, the BHF-funded team from the University of Oxford described how an experimental drug called 2-deoxyglucose (2-DG) may improve heart function after a heart attack.

Imaging inflammation

Despite the huge progress that has been made in the treatment of heart attacks, thousands of people still die each year. It is believed that one of the barriers to the heart healing after a heart attack is inflammation of heart’s muscle tissue, known as the myocardium. This inflammation may stop the heart recovering from a heart attack.

In the past research into reducing this inflammation was made difficult by the fact that imaging methods normally used on heart attack patients don’t clearly show inflammation. Hyperpolarised MRI (h-MRI) is a new scan which could offer doctors much more information about healthy and diseased hearts than conventional scans, including the level of inflammation post-heart attack. It can boost the signal strength from MRI by over 25,000 times

Our Associate Medical Director, Professor Metin Avkiran, explains “By better understanding what happens to the heart, h-MRI could help scientists develop and monitor the effects of new, inflammation-targeting treatments in the future.”

In this study, the team measured the production of a molecule called lactate in the damaged heart tissue of rats, following a heart attack. They found that after a heart attack, immune cells within the injured heart muscle become active and are reprogrammed to make lactate, leading to inflammation in the heart. By monitoring how much lactate is produced in the damaged tissue, they were able to identify and measure the level of inflammation in the heart.

HMRI contrasted with conventional MRI

This image of prostate cancers compares a conventional MRI image with a hyperpolarised MR (h-MRI)I. The conventional MRI (left) shows anatomical information but the h-MRI images show the uptake of carbon 13 and its metabolic conversion to lactate (right). These h-MRI images were captured in just 14 seconds. Reproduced with the permission of Daniel B. Vigneron, Ph.D. UCSF Professor. 

A new drug to reduce inflammation

The team then administered an experimental drug called 2-deoxyglucose (2-DG) to the rats following a heart attack, to try and combat the inflammation in the heart. Using h-MRI to monitor the heart’s response, they found that 2-DG reduced lactate production and inflammation, and improved the heart’s function.

Future plans

By using h-MRI, scientists can not only detect inflammation in damaged heart tissue, but could also develop and monitor the effects of new treatments to improve the heart’s healing process in heart attack patients.

Dr Andrew Lewis, Specialist Registrar in Cardiology at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon, who is shortlisted for the Young Investigator's Prize and who presented these findings at the British Cardiovascular Society (BCS) Conference explains:

“Our work has identified several forms of heart disease where this technique could be used to improve diagnosis and treatment. This is incredibly exciting, and we intend to move forward with patient studies as quickly as possible."

Read more about our heart attack research