Science Briefs

Tina Peng

Scientists granted patent for heart scan technology

Scientists from Northwestern, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and Siemens Medical Solutions were awarded a patent for a new technology that could eventually eliminate the need for an electrocardiogram, an electrical recording of the heart used to investigate heart disease.

Feinberg School of Medicine Prof. Andrew Larson, the patent’s principal author, said current cardiac imaging techniques require an ECG as well using Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

ECG images, which acquire the heart image from MRI data over multiple heartbeats, can appear blurry or "noisy," Larson explained.

Such flaws can be due to erratic heartbeats or a patient’s inability to hold his breath for the amount of time required to form a composite image, Larson said.

The new patented technology, he said, will acquire the needed images directly from the MRI and will eliminate the need for an ECG by synchronizing heart cycles rather than segmenting the intake process over a series of cycles.

"You avoid the issue of noisy ECG altogether," he said.

The patent was awarded on Sept. 28. The new technology will require extensive clinical evaluations before it could widely be used, but Larson said the discovery is still important.

"There is definitely an expressed need for alternate strategies like this because (ECGs) can be problematic," he said.

NU joins national study of depression treatments

NU is one of 16 schools nationwide participating in a national clinical trial that will evaluate the effectiveness of a new, non-invasive technique for treating major depression.

The technique, called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, stimulates nerve cells in the brain with repeated bursts of magnetic energy.

If the technique is cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, it would mark the first time non-drug treatment for depression would be available to the public since electroconvulsive therapy was introduced in the 1930s.

Patients undergoing TMS remain fully awake during the 45-minute procedure, during which magnetic pulses of intensity similar to an MRI machine produce an electrical field in the brain. The field is thought to create positive mood changes.

"The objective of TMS is to stimulate the ‘mood circuits’ without causing a seizure," said Feinberg Prof. William Gilmer, a psychiatrist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the study’s principal investigator, in a press release. "The stimulation applied to the brain is very focused, thereby reducing the risk of adverse effects, especially in comparison to ECT."

Under ECT, patients must be anesthetized, which is not necessary in the TMS procedure.

The study will be conducted by Feinberg and Northwestern Memorial. It will be open to people between 18 and 70 years old who have been diagnosed with major depression and have exhibited resistance to antidepressant medications.

— Tina Peng