Heart-scanning tech could detect deadly scarring as it forms, paving way for new treatments

EDINBURGH, Scotland — Heart-scanning technology under development by Scottish scientists could pave the way for life-saving treatments. Researchers will use pioneering imaging techniques to detect scar tissue as it is formed on the heart – the cause of almost all forms of heart failure.

While scar tissue is normal after many conditions, including heart attacks and heart valve disease, a build up of too much can stop the heart beating efficiently. Until now scanners have only been able to identify this scarring after it has formed, and only in certain places.

A trial of the groundbreaking tech is being carried out by The University of Edinburgh and funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). If successful, researchers will be able to see and understand how scars are formed which it is hoped will lead to better treatments.

Experts say the ability to spot scarring in real time as it develops on the heart muscle would be a “major scientific advance” and could change how patients are diagnosed and treated.

“Our understanding of how scarring develops in the heart muscle isn’t very good. We don’t really understand the processes that turn it on, the processes that turn it off, and the processes that cause it to carry on when we don’t want it to and lead to heart failure,” explains Marc Dweck, Chair of Clinical Cardiology at Edinburgh, in a statement to South West News Service. “That’s where this scanning technology is exciting, because we’re able to study that in in our patients whilst they have heart disease.

Scarring is an important target, Prof Dweck says, as it is a cause of all forms of heart failure.

“If you have a heart attack, in the early stages the scarring is good because it lets the heart heal up, stops it from rupturing and stops the patient from dying,” he adds. “But if the scarring is excessive, then that leads to heart failure. I think we’re really going to learn a lot, and I think that will accelerate the development of new treatments for heart failure and other heart muscle conditions.”

Groundbreaking scans could transform ‘our understanding of heart disease’

Gordon Sharpe, 72, from Edinburgh, is one of the patients taking part in the trial. After suffering a heart attack at his home in 2021, doctors at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh discovered he had a blocked artery.

Sharpe admits he “jumped at the chance” to be involved with the trial.

“I strongly believe that this line of research is essential if we are to learn how to develop best-timed treatment and therapies which could greatly improve the quality and scope of life for those who have heart attacks in the future,” he tells SWNS. “There is no doubt in my mind that this type of research funded by the BHF will spawn other studies and prove highly productive in both saving and improving lives.”

Dweck’s project is one of more than 100 currently funded by the BHF in ten Scottish universities.

“This is an example of how cutting-edge research is transforming our understanding of heart disease, including coronary heart disease – the cause of most heart attacks,” says James Jopling, Head of BHF Scotland.

Report by South West News Service writer Ellie Forbes.