Using powerful magnets to understand overloaded hearts

The Institute for Experimental Medical Research (IEMR) at the University of Oslo and Oslo University Hospital are developing a new imaging method to discover the secrets of the diseased heart.

Aortic stenosis: a great challenge

Aortic stenosis is one of the most common heart diseases. The heart’s aortic valve allows blood to flow into the aorta, the main artery that carries blood to your body, and stopping it from flowing back into the heart when the heart relaxes. When someone is diagnosed with aortic stenosis, this means that the aortic valve is too narrow. As a result, the heart works harder to pump blood through the narrow valve. Over time, this added stress can weaken the heart and result in heart failure. Unfortunately, there are no medical therapies that have been proven to delay the progression of aortic stenosis, therefore the only effective treatment for those patients is to replace the old valve with a new one.

…but when should you get a new valve?

Unfortunately, it can be very challenging to decide the optimal time to replace the valve. If the procedure is performed too early, it would subject the patient to unnecessary risks. On the other hand, if the valve replacement is performed too late, it will be impossible to regain normal heart function.

«We believe that the key to solving this challenge lies in better evaluation of the heart’s function and structure», says Mohammed Almashhadani, a Medical Research Curriculum Student at Institute for Experimental Medical Research.

Powerful magnetic fields to the rescue

Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (CMR) is a powerful imaging technique that allows us to both measures the heart’s structure and function at the same time. CMR utilizes a strong magnetic field, radio signals, and a computer to produce very detailed pictures of the heart without using radiation like that used for X-rays. The stronger the magnetic field is, the more accurate and precise its measurements are.

«Our CMR has a magnetic field stronger than junkyard magnets capable of lifting cars and 300 times stronger than your refrigerator magnet», explains Mohammed.

«This can provide invaluable details that would help doctors decide the optimal time to operate. However, the currently available CMR-based techniques only scratch the surface of what actually occurs in the hearts of aortic stenosis patients», he continues.

At IEMR, we have worked with this CMR method for several years, and now the time has come to utilize this in this pressing clinical challenge: the question of when to perform surgery on AS patients
Emil Espe

Groundbreaking method

This ongoing study will implement and validate a new groundbreaking CMR method that calculates the work done by the heart muscle. The complex methodology is made possible by the interdisciplinary collaboration between medical students and experts in various fields such as mathematics, physics, radiology, and cardiology.

«We have developed a CMR method that allows us to measure precisely how much work the heart muscle performs», explains Emil Espe. He is a researcher at IEMR and main supervisor for this project.

«This has been made possible by close collaboration with our colleagues at Rikshospitalet here in Oslo, who were the first in the world to show that the work done by the heart muscle could be measured with imaging», Espe explains.

«At IEMR, we have worked with this CMR method for several years, and now the time has come to utilize this in this pressing clinical challenge: the question of when to perform surgery on AS patients», he concludes.

Great future potential

With an aging population, the number of patients with serious and life-threatening heart disease, such as aortic stenosis, is greatly increased.

«Better imaging methods are not only valuable for aortic stenosis patients. Our ambition is that our work may help patients struggling with a wide range of heart diseases», Mohammed explains. «Across the world, millions of patients may benefit from better diagnosis and new insight into the secrets of the diseased heart», concludes Mohammed.


Read more about the Preclinical MR Core Facility at IEMR