When the heart has to work too hard, for instance when a heart valve is leaking, the heart muscle stiffens and changes composition: muscle cells die and are replaced by scar tissue. Erasmus MC teams up with research ultrasound company FUJIFILM Visualsonics and three Dutch SMEs: Percuros, PanaceAR and Kaminari Medical, to develop a new technology with lasers, ultrasound, and molecular labels that enables early detection of tissue changes.
Approximately 38.000 people in the Netherlands per year are diagnosed with heart failure, and associated healthcare costs are almost 850 million euro per year. Heart failure is often a consequence of a previous heart attack, chronic high blood pressure, or a leaking valve. It is a condition that strongly affects quality of life. With medication and lifestyle changes, the progression of the disease can be slowed down. For this reason, early detection is important.
The changes in the heart that happen on a cellular level are the earliest signs of heart failure. These cannot be detected with technology available today. In this project, we will apply molecules that stick to particular sites of scar tissue and necrosis – so-called contrast agents – to make early heart failure visible. Such images can be made with photoacoustics, where light is used to make ultrasound images of organs. The photoacoustic imaging has to be fast enough to prevent motion blur when looking at the moving heart.
At the completion of this project, we will understand how the contrast agents, which were developed for cancer diagnosis, can be used for imaging the heart. This is important for improved interventions (Kaminari Medical) and visualization (PanaceAR) of heart disease, and for making the contrast agents (Percuros). The fast imaging tools are of interest to Visualsonics, who will develop these further into diagnostic modalities that can be clinically used.