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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cardiac imaging breakthrough at the UWO



Monday the University of Western Ontario announced the formation of the Biomedical Imaging Research Centre (BIRC). Thursday Western announced a breakthrough in cardiac imaging. The two announcements are closely linked.

Dr. James White, a cardiologist and core research scientist with BIRC led the team responsible for today's announced breakthrough offering cardiologists and surgeons a new imaging technique producing a single, 3D high-resolution image of the heart.

White successfully visualized the heart's blood vessels and a myocardial scar at the same time. A first!

Dr. S. de Ribaupierre
At the announcement of BIRC, Neurosurgeon Sandrine de Ribaupierre said advances in medical imaging are needed to improve safety. "It needs to be really accurate."

It was pointed out that these technologies are known to occasionally to give false positives or false negatives. Possibly the best known example of this was reported by neuroscientist Craig Bennett, then a graduate student at Dartmouth College, who scanned the brain of a dead salmon and the natural noise inherent in the fMRI data 'revealed' the dead fish was thinking.

This fMRI date 'revealed' the dead fish was thinking. BIRC holds the promise of improved imaging with increased diagnostic accuracy and fewer false positives.
With medical professionals placing more and more reliance on diagnostic imaging, accuracy is paramount - and increased accuracy in cardiac imaging is what Thursday's breakthrough announcement delivers with BIRC promising more to come.

Injuries to the heart from heart attacks or viral inflammation can result in permanent damage or scarring of the heart muscle. Using a 3-Tesla MRI White and his team constructed a three dimensional model of a patient's heart clearly showing the relationship between the heart's blood vessels and a permanent injury. Dr. White said, "This will help direct surgeons and cardiologists to better target the blood vessels that lead to (healthy) muscle . . . " and improve the outlooks for patients requiring pacemakers, bypass surgery or angioplasties.

Dr. A. Fenster
The London research will not be restricted to MRIs. Dr. Aaron Fenster, BIRC director and Robarts Research Institute scientist, said London has all the necessary medical-imaging technologies for extensive research: MRIs, PET scanners, CT equipment, X-ray machines and SPECT imaging.

The Biomedical Imaging Research Centre is about more than scanners it is about people. BIRC brings together researchers from Western's Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Lawson Health and Research Institute, Robarts Research Institute, the biomedical-engineering graduate program at the UWO and more. 150 graduate students plus 50 associate scientists in basic and clinical research will work with dozens of BIRC core scientists.

Fenster said, "We assembled the centre with the vision to become the most successful integrated biomedical-research program in Canada . . . to become one of the top five in the world . . . "

This is research with almost immediate practical applications. According to de Ribaupierre, there is no point in pushing scanning technology "if you are not going to use it clinically." To this end, the researchers will be working closely with clinicians.

Dr. M. Strong
Dr. Michael Strong, Dean of the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario, said, "It does us absolutely no good to bring a group of individuals together and say we are going to call you a centre if it doesn't mean something at the end of the day . . . Otherwise it is just a name . . . "

Today's breakthrough announcement adds weight to Strong's strong words.
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As someone who recently had an MRI with another yet to come, two 25 minute trips through a nuclear scanning device, a transesophageal echocardiogram and  looking at the possibility of undergoing a cardiac ablation, I know how important accurate imaging is to the successful outcome of some very serious medical procedures. When I heard about the Biomedical Imaging Research Centre press conference, I just had to attend and report.

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