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Painless Real Time Prevention for Heart Disease

For those living with congenital heart defects or past heart failure, knowing accurate blood oxygen levels in the body could mean the difference between life or death.

Keeping track of those levels inside organs deep within the body remains a critical part of the diagnosis and management of many children and adults suffering from a variety of cardiovascular diseases.

Focusing on this issue, a collaborative team of faculty at The Ohio State University recently won a two-year $423,500 funding award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant program. Their work will now support the creation of new technology to give physicians a way to more accurately measure blood oxygen levels in real time, even deep inside the body, without the need to break the skin.

Rizwan Ahmad, research assistant professor in the Ohio State Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and one of two principal investigators on the project (PI), said the team’s NIH proposal outlines the development of a new unobtrusive diagnostic tool to measure blood oxygen saturation in the body, with little risk to the patient, through the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

“The application of this MRI technique could potentially reduce the number of diagnostic catheterization procedures that patients with cardiovascular diseases like congenital heart defect, heart failure and pulmonary hypertension would have to undergo for a measurement of blood oxygen saturation,” Ahmad said.

The current standard for obtaining such measurements is by invasive catheterization, he said, which carries inherent risks.

Ohio State cardiovascular medicine and radiology professor Orlando P. Simonetti is also PI on the project. He said the MRI technique was under development over the past two years and is now staged for initial clinical testing.

"Adult patients with heart failure will be studied at the Ohio State Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital, thanks to funding from the Ohio State College of Medicine, and in pediatric patients at Nationwide Children's Hospital with funding support from its Heart Center," Simonetti said.

The Ohio State MRI team is further rounded out by ECE professor Lee Potter, as well as Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute post-doctoral fellow Juliet Varghese.

“Hemoglobin changes its magnetic resonance properties, based on the oxygen content of blood,” he said.

Detecting these changes non-invasively, Ahmad said, currently remains unreliable. However, in the lab, the team was finally able to develop and implement an MRI technique to accurately measure oxygen saturation in flowing blood.

“We propose an entirely new approach,” he said. “This will result in a practical clinical application.”

According to the United States Center for Disease Control, about 610,000 people in this country die of heart disease every year. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

Ahmad said measuring blood oxygen saturation is a key biomarker for the clinical evaluation of cardiovascular disease. Using MRI technology as they propose can help lower the number of preventable deaths.