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Pioneering imaging techniques to study scarring tissue in the heart


Researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science on Edinburgh BioQuarter are to use pioneering imaging techniques to investigate scarring in the heart, which could pave the way for major advances to save and improve lives from heart disease.

Scarring of the heart tissue and muscle occurs in many different conditions including after heart attacks and in heart valve disease. When scar tissue builds up, it prevents the heart from beating efficiently, and is a major cause of heart failure – a debilitating condition for which there is no cure.

Up until now, scanning technology has only been able to detect scarring in patients once it has already formed, reducing treatment options.

Researchers have received a grant of £671,000 from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) for a clinical study using state-of-the art scanning and imaging which, for the very first time, hopes to identify scarring in patients in the early stages as it is developing.

Current scanning technology has only been able to detect scarring in patients once it has already formed, reducing treatment options.

The new study hopes to identify scarring in its early stages of development. This could mean patients being treated more effectively and potentially before the effects of scarring are irreversible. This study may also enable to detect scarring in other areas of the heart that might previously been missed out.

Professor Marc Dweck, Chair of Clinical Cardiology at the University of Edinburgh and a consultant cardiologist, is the lead on this project and explains: ” We are really excited to get started on this study. Up to this point, we have only been able to see scar in the heart that has already formed, perhaps many years or decades ago. Our work hopes to shed important light on scarring that is actually occurring now, at the time of the scan. Is the heart scarred or is it scarring? This in turn will help increase our understanding about how scar develops in the heart and how best to treat patients and prevent the development of heart failure. Another benefit of this type of procedure is that it is non-invasive which is obviously good news for patients.”

If the study proves successful, researchers believe such imaging techniques could potentially be used for a whole range of heart diseases.

Professor Dweck continues: ” The ability to image scarring in real time, as it is developing in the heart muscle, would be a major scientific advance, which could improve our knowledge about a wide range of heart muscle disorders and speed up the development of new treatments. This could really change how we diagnose and treat patients.”

The study will take place over the next three years and is expected to involve around 200 patients.

72-year-old Gordon Sharpe, from Edinburgh, is taking part in Professor Dweck’s project. Gordon had a heart attack at home in November 2021. He was taken to NHS Lothian Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh where he was found to have a blocked artery and underwent coronary angioplasty to improve the blood supply to his heart.

Gordon explains: ” When I was offered the opportunity to participate in the study, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to learn as much as I could about the damage and scarring of my heart muscle. 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.”


The University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science is located within the Queen’s Medical Research Institute on Edinburgh BioQuarter. It is a world-leading centre of excellence that integrates discovery, translational and clinical cardiovascular research to transform the diagnosis, treatment and management of people with heart and circulatory diseases.

The BHF is the largest independent funder of research into heart and circulatory diseases in Scotland and has recently launched its new “This is Science” campaign, raising awareness of the power of science to save and improve the lives of people affected by heart and circulatory diseases.