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Current NET grants
Bristol Heart Institute
We awarded Dr Thomas Johnson a NET Grant to carry out research into coronary narrowings. Although there has been considerable progress in the treatment of heart disease, heart attacks are still the most common cause of death in people under the age of 75 in the UK. Therefore an accurate way of identifying people at high risk of a heart attack would offer great benefits. Coronary artery disease is due to a build-up of fatty deposits (plaques) causing narrowing of the arteries and restricting the blood flow to the heart muscle. Heart attacks are usually caused by rupture of the fatty plaques, causing a blood clot that blocks the artery. An X-ray test called coronary angiography is the best way of diagnosing coronary artery disease but this test is poor at predicting the risk of future heart attacks.
Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) is a novel and emerging technique which allows cardiologists to accurately ‘see’, in microscopic detail, the plaques in the coronary arteries and may provide a way of detecting those at risk of rupturing and causing heart attack. This method involves guiding a small probe down the coronary artery and is similar to ultrasound testing, except that imaging is based on using light rather than sound waves.
Royal Brompton Hospital, London
This NET grant was awarded to Dr Jennifer Keegan to develop a new technique to study the motion of the heart muscle. Abnormal heart wall motion is an important feature in a number of heart conditions which lead to heart failure. A robust, rapid and reproducible method of measuring regional wall motion would be useful in the early detection, assessment and follow-up of disease.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a safe, non-invasive technique which allows cross-sectional images of the heart to be taken. The aim of this project is to develop a MRI technique to measure the speed of the heart muscle as it contracts and relaxes and use this data to assess wall motion.
The research team plans to use a method they developed earlier which allows clear images to be obtained as quickly as possible, even if the patient breathes irregularly or changes their breathing pattern during the scan. The new technique will be assessed in test objects with realistic heart-like motion and then on healthy volunteers. This new MRI technique may represent an effective way of measuring regional heart motion and so improve the diagnosis and follow-up of disease.
University of Hull
The first ever NET grant was awarded to a project run by Professor John Greenman at the University of Hull in 2007. The aims of this project are to develop a system in which human heart muscle tissue can be maintained for sufficiently long periods in a laboratory for appropriate tests to be carried out, whilst continuing to beat and otherwise function as though it was in a human body. This innovative approach differs fundamentally from current techniques, which use isolated heart cells, by allowing us to study tissue, which represents more closely the heart in its natural state.
The system will allow scientists to study both healthy and diseased heart tissues in life-like conditions, as well as simulating diseases such as angina or heart failure, in much greater detail than presently possible.
The project will ultimately help patients whose hearts have been damaged by either a heart attack, high blood pressure, diabetes or other disorders of the heart muscle by improving understanding of how heart function can decline in disease. It will also help to develop new treatments which improve function, stop deterioration and promote repair. Additionally, it will provide an important step on the road to the growth of heart tissue that could be transplanted into the sick and failing heart to restore function.
The loss of co-ordinated heart muscle contraction, called arrhythmia, is the largest cause of hospitalisation in Europe. Current treatments are ineffective and/or have dangerous side effects. Pharmaceutical companies have invested billions of pounds in generating vast numbers of chemicals that potentially contain the next generation of anti-arrhythmic drugs that lie buried in these huge chemical 'libraries' as pharmaceutical companies stick to tried-and-tested approaches of screening drugs.
This project, conducted by Dr Christopher George, will develop the world's first strategy for screening new anti-arrhythmics in heart cells. Using sophisticated laser imaging of beating heart cells, married to state-of-the-art computational methods, that will reveal in exquisite detail how these cardiac cells 'think', this system will yield unprecedented insights into the mechanisms that go wrong in arrhythmia and identify new compounds that can restore normal heart cell behaviour. It is hoped that the system will result in greatly improved ways to treat this devastating disease in the future.