Quantum technology could help diagnose and treat a heart condition that affects around one million people in the UK, a new study suggests.
The conductivity of the organ could be imaged non-invasively using the technology developed by University College London (UCL) researchers.
They say this has the potential to revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment of atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a heart condition that causes an irregular and abnormally fast heart rate, potentially leading to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.
While the causes are unknown, it affects about one million people in the UK. with scientists saying cases are predicted to rise.
It is currently commonly diagnosed using an electrocardiogram (ECG), but this can only be done during an episode.
The condition is treated through a surgical procedure called “catheter ablation”, which carefully destroys the diseased area of the heart to interrupt abnormal electrical circuits.
In 50% of cases, patients require further treatment.
Testing of UCL’s technology, published in Applied Physics Letters, shows it can successfully image conductivity, mimicking biological tissues.
It could, therefore, could be used to diagnose AF and identify areas of the heart where surgery should be targeted.
The technology works by mapping the electrical conductivity of the heart in 2D to identify anomalies where the heart is misfiring.
Corresponding author Dr Luca Marmugi, of UCL physics and astronomy and UCLQ, said: “Surgery to treat atrial fibrillation effectively cuts the wires to prevent a short circuit in the heart, resetting the irregular heartbeat to a normal one, and our technology would help to identify where the short circuit is.
“While not available in the clinic yet, we’ve shown, for the first time, that it is possible to map the conductivity of live tissues in small volumes to an unprecedented level of sensitivity and at room temperature.”
Co-author and group leader Professor Ferruccio Renzoni, also of UCL physics and astronomy, said: “Electromagnetic induction imaging has been successfully used in a range of practical uses such as non-destructive evaluation, material characterisation and security screening, but this is the first time that it’s been shown to be useful for biomedical imaging.
“We think it will be safe to use as it would expose organs, such as the heart, to one-billionth the magnetic field commonly used in MRI scanners.”
The team suggests an array of their quantum sensors can be placed over the heart, giving readings in a matter of seconds.
They will next work with clinicians to integrate the technology into a tool for use in GPs surgeries and hospitals.
The work was funded by the UK Quantum Technology Hub in Sensing and Metrology, which is part of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research council.