Leeds research could see new approach to treating heart attack patients

Category: Research

We have recently provided a grant to a researcher at the University of Leeds, to continue her study of patients who have had heart attacks.

Dr Erica Dall’Armellina has been working on the project for four years, and has now received a further £350,153 to continue working on the project for another two years.

Dr Erica Dall’Armelina, who is leading the project at the University of Leeds

The research uses advanced medical imaging to look at the hearts of patients who have had heart attacks, within 72 hours of the attack happening. By using a very specialised kind of MRI scan, the team can see the damage that has happened, and can understand more about the long term implications for each patient. This could lead the way to much more patient-specific treatments for heart attacks.

An opportunity to learn more about the heart

Dr Dall’Armellina, who is a clinician as well as a researcher, says patients are often really interested to see the scans of their hearts.

“The sort of imaging techniques we use are very advanced and wouldn’t normally be available to patients. By participating in our research, they are given the opportunity to actually see how the heart attack has affected their heart – and to understand a bit more about how we will treat them,” she said.

Dr Dall’Armellina uses a technique called Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI). This highly complex scanning method, which has been implemented in only a few centres worldwide, allows Dr Dall’Armellina and her team to analyse changes and damage in the heart tissue after a heart attack. From these images, they aim to better identify patients who may develop further complications such as heart failure or abnormal heart rhythms.

Giving something back through research

Steve Hawkins, a retired plumber from Bradford, participated in the study following his heart attack in August 2018.

Steve Hawkins stands outside on a wooden terrace by a river.Steve Hawkins, who took part in the study at Leeds after suffering a heart attack last year.

“I suffered a heart attack whilst at a fishing competition last summer. To start with I didn’t even realise it was a heart attack, but the chest pain quickly got worse and an ambulance was called. The paramedics confirmed it was a heart attack, and I was admitted to Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) where I had a procedure to put a stent in my coronary artery.

“I was approached by a researcher from the University of Leeds, who gave me some literature to read and to discuss with my family if I wanted to be involved in their study. They said if I participated I would need to participate in 3 tests. One within 5 days of the heart attack, one 3 months later and one after a year.

“My granddaughter had open heart surgery at LGI when she was just 6 months old, and another serious operation on her trachea before she was a year. I feel so grateful to the hospital that of course I said I would be involved with this research.

“I had my first MRI scan a few days after the heart attack, and the second set of scans in November 2018. I got to look at what the doctors were looking at and they explained more about how MRI scans of the heart work. They showed me on the scan that I have a small area of scarring of my heart muscle but luckily the damage is much less than it could have been, thanks to the amazingly quick actions of the ambulance team and staff at LGI.”

The study continues…

Dr Dall’Armellina and her team have collaborated with researchers from Zurich, London and Oxford on this project and have so far worked with around 100 patients. They hope to scan a further 60 over the next two years of the funding.

A diagram showing the difference between images generated by Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) scans, and standard imaging. Both images show cross-sections of the heart.A cross section of the left ventricle in the heart, showing the difference in detail between DTI scans and previous standard imaging techniques

BHF Senior Research Advisor Dr Shannon Amoils said:

“Dr Dall’Armellina’s research uses cutting-edge cardiac magnetic resonance imaging techniques to characterise heart muscle damage in detail after a heart attack. The aim is to improve our ability to predict outcomes for heart attack patients, leading to a more personalised approach to treatment.

“1 in 4 people in the UK and 1 in 3 people globally die from heart and circulatory disease. Research like this is vitally important to help us understand more about the world’s biggest killer.”



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