Joint NNUH and UEA cardiac research published in prestigious journal

A major study by the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) and University of East Anglia (UEA) that could revolutionise the diagnosis of heart disease has been published in a prestigious health journal – Open Heart.

Cardiology and Imaging experts from NNUH and UEA have been running the international research since July 2022, which uses a widely available MRI technique to examine blood flow in addition to the standard ultrasound of the heart.

The results from the study, which involved 15 patients and was led by Consultant Cardiologist Dr Pankaj Garg, have been published in the March edition of the Open Heart, published by British Medical Journal.

Healthy blood flow in the aorta – the largest artery in the body – has a specific swirling pattern. But in various heart diseases, this swirling pattern is disturbed, causing the artery to become stiffer and inefficient, which can lead to breathlessness.

Dr Garg, who is an Associate Professor in Cardiovascular Medicine at UEA’s Norwich Medical School is also studying aortic flow patterns using four-dimensional flow cardiac MRI at NNUH. However, this latest technology is not widely accessible and therefore restricts research and understanding of how aortic flow is impacted in various heart diseases in the wider population.

Dr Zia Mehmood, Clinical and Research Cardiology Fellow at NNUH, said it is tricky to study the complex three-dimensional swirling blood flow accurately with ultrasound of the heart (echocardiography).

“For the first time, in this study led by Dr Garg, we introduced a simpler method for examining blood flow in the aorta using the widely available MRI technique called two-dimensional phase-contrast cardiac MRI.”

“Our research team collaborated with colleagues from several countries including the UK, Italy, Singapore, the United States, and the Netherlands. We discovered that the two-dimensional phase-contrast cardiac MRI reliably and accurately measures aortic flow patterns and detects abnormalities – comparable to the more sophisticated four-dimensional cardiac MRI. We hope that adopting this method will potentially lead to research at a much larger scale to gain further insights into how aortic flow relates to various heart conditions. Ultimately, this could lead to improved care for patients living with heart conditions.”

Validation of 2D flow MRI for helical and vortical flows is published in the BMJ and is online.

Dr Garg was awarded funding from the Wellcome Trust fund for this research.

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