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New MRI technique could lead to more effective changes in treatment for heart transplant patients

While conducting the study, 40 heart transplant patients from St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney were randomised into receiving either a traditional biopsy or the new MRI technique.

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This invasive procedure involves a tube being placed in the jugular vein and it allows the surgeons to insert a biopsy tool into the heart to remove multiple samples of heart tissue. (File)

Scientists at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney have developed a new MRI technique that can help heart transplant survivors undergoing invasive biopsies has proven to be safe and effective. According to scientists, the new technique has proven to be safe and effective and it reduces complications and hospital admissions. The findings of the study were published in the journal Circulation and it revealed the new test was just as effective as detecting rejection.

The researchers at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney are hopeful that the new virtual biopsy designed to detect any signs of the heart being rejected will be adopted by clinicians the world over. According to scientists, around 3500 people across the world receive heart transplants each year. However, most patients experience some form of organ rejection and whilst survival rates are high, a small percentage will die in the first year after surgery.

“It’s essential that we can monitor these patients closely and with a high degree of accuracy; now we have a new tool that can do that without the need for a highly invasive procedure. This new virtual biopsy takes less time, is non-invasive, more cost-effective, uses no radiation or contrast agents, and most importantly patients much prefer it,” Andrew Jabbour, Associate Professor, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and Consultant Cardiologist at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney.

This invasive procedure involves a tube being placed in the jugular vein and it allows the surgeons to insert a biopsy tool into the heart to remove multiple samples of heart tissue. According to the team, it can also lead to rare but serious complications if the heart is perforated, or a valve is damaged. Moreover, the patients usually undergo a biopsy around 12 times in the first year after transplantation.

However, the new MRI technique has been proven to be accurate in detecting rejection and works by analyzing heart edema levels which the team demonstrated are closely associated with inflammation of the heart.

While conducting the study, 40 heart transplant patients from St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney were randomised into receiving either a traditional biopsy or the new MRI technique. The study also revealed that despite similarities in immunosuppression requirements, kidney function, and mortality rates, there was a reduction in hospitalization and infection rates for those who underwent the MRI procedure vs a biopsy.

“The technique is now frequently used at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, and I anticipate that more clinics across the world will adopt this novel technology,” Fellow author and cardiologist Dr Chris Anthony, who helped conduct the study, said in a statement.

Reportedly, the team of researchers at the Institute and St Vincent’s is now planning a larger multi-center trial to broaden the applicability of the findings and incorporate pediatric transplant recipients. Meanwhile, they are also developing new genetic testing to be used alongside the MRI which it is hoped will detect signs of rejection through identifying genetic signals of donor-specific inflammation in the bloodstream. 

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