Professor Sven Plein and his team at the University of Leeds are focused on changing the lives of people with cardiovascular disease by developing better ways to image the beating heart. Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and other methods, their internationally acclaimed research aims to detect heart disease before it causes irreversible damage and to improve the treatment of people who have suffered a heart attack or heart failure.
Today’s imaging technology can provide very clear pictures of what is happening in the heart that help us to better understand what causes heart disease, and how we can better prevent and treat it. Such information is vital in the fight against heart disease.
The methods developed by Professor Plein and his team can then be used to better detect heart disease and to monitor the effects that different types of treatment have on the heart, often removing the need for invasive tests.
Cutting across the spectrum of cardiovascular disease
While Professor Plein’s work touches on several imaging techniques, his research speciality is MRI, a field in which he is an international expert and a topic on which he has published 200 academic papers. Through his work at the University of Leeds Professor Plein has helped Leeds build a reputation as one of the UK’s leading innovation and translational hubs in cardiovascular imaging.
Together with BHF Professor Mark Kearney who is also based at the University of Leeds, Professor Sven Plein and the research team in Leeds Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine drive forward a research strategy that aims to advance understanding of cardiovascular disease and to improve human life, with a particular focus on the cardiovascular effects of diabetes.
Making imaging safer and more accurate
In 2012, Professor Plein’s team published the results of a BHF-funded study in the medical journal The Lancet demonstrating that MRI is an accurate and reliable method for detecting coronary heart disease. They were able to show that MRI is as accurate and reliable a method for detecting coronary heart disease as the standard test known as SPECT.
This finding was important for patients as SPECT exposes patients to radiation and MRI does not, leading to a safer diagnostic option for patients.
From the lab to the hospital scanner
Professor Plein has helped establish and leads the newly created Centre for Translational Cardiovascular Imaging at the University of Leeds. Through your donations, the BHF has contributed nearly £2 million to help create the state of the art facility, which forms part of the Leeds Multidisciplinary Cardiovascular Research Centre.
By linking the work of different groups at different stages of the research journey, the centre aims to get research out of the lab quickly, so it can benefit patients sooner. Specifically, that means bringing together researchers working with heart cells and blood vessels, and those who undertake research with patients.
Understanding the link between diabetes and heart failure
Professor Plein has recently been exploring why people with diabetes are more likely to develop heart failure, a condition can be debilitating and affects more than half a million people in the UK where the heart becomes unable to pump blood efficiently around the body. It can leave patients in a state of breathlessness and unable to leave the house.
We still don’t fully understand why people with diabetes are more prone to heart failure and how we can slow the progression of heart failure in diabetes. In the study funded by the BHF, the team are looking at the hearts of volunteers who have diabetes with detailed MRI scans to find out how a new class of diabetes medications improves the heart’s function.
This research will help inform clinicians which treatments may work better to help prevent deterioration of the heart and at what time these are best prescribed.
Improving conventional MRI scanners
In collaboration with the Medical Research Council and University of York Professor Plein has set up a new Centre for Translational Hyperpolarised Magnetic Resonance.
The facility is designed to undertake research that will greatly improve the sensitivity of MRI scanners using a process called hyperpolarisation, which allows scientists to track chemical processes in the body on conventional MRI scanners with a strong signal, which produces brighter images. The centre aims to bring a new hyperpolarisation method from its early technical development to a routine part of patient treatment.
As well as the post of BHF Professor of Cardiovascular Imaging, Professor Plein is a practicing clinician at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and the Head of the Division of Biomedical Imaging in Leeds. He is currently also the Vice President of the European Association of Cardiovascular Imaging.
Find out more about the research we fund here.