Heart transplant patients often undergo cardiac biopsies in the weeks and months after the transplant to check for heart problems and rejection. The procedure, which involves taking a small sample of heart tissue for testing, can be quite invasive.
However, thanks to a new technique developed by researchers from St. Vincent’s Hospital Sydney and Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, heart transplant survivors won’t have to deal with invasive cardiac biopsies anymore. Scientists have developed a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique that can allow clinicians to check for signs of heart transplant rejection without hospital admissions and with minimal complications.
Researchers tested out this method in a study that involved 40 patients who had received heart transplants at St. Vincent’s Hospital. After randomly separating them into groups that received the novel MRI technique versus traditional cardiac biopsies, they found that the new method is as efficient at detecting signs of heart transplant rejection.
The new virtual biopsy technique is safe and effective, and could be instrumental in improving the care of thousands of heart transplant survivors round the world, associate professor Andrew Jabbour from the Victor Chang Cardiac Institute stated.
There are approximately 3,500 successful heart transplants every year, with most patients going through some kind of organ rejection the first year after surgery. Jabbour reiterated that it was crucial that clinicians monitor these patients closely and accurately to spot any signs of rejection, especially in the first year after the transplant.
With this new virtual biopsy tool, he explained, clinicians would be monitor without having to rely on an uncomfortable and extremely invasive procedure that involves collecting a small sample of your heart for testing.
The new method is noninvasive, meaning it does not involve breaking the skin or entering the body in any way. It is also faster and more affordable, and doesn’t call for any radiation and contrast agents. Furthermore, he added, patients seem to prefer virtual biopsies to cardiac biopsies.
Although regular heart biopsies are effective at helping doctors to check for organ rejection and determine how many immunosuppressive treatments are needed, the procedure isn’t 100% safe. If it isn’t performed correctly and if the heart or valves are perforated, the patient could end up with severe complications.
Because heart transplant patients often go through this uncomfortable procedure at least once a month in the first year after surgery, it’s clear why many would rather do the virtual biopsy instead.
The researchers published their findings in the “Circulation” journal.
Advances are also being made by companies such as Aditxt Inc. (NASDAQ: ADTX) in the search for ways to retrain the immune system so that the possibility of transplant rejection is reduced among patients.
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