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New leading technology for heart patients

04/03/2020
Dr Sergei Pavlitchouk and the team with the new camera

The Oxford Heart Centre at the John Radcliffe Hospital has become one of only three hospitals in the UK to be equipped with the very latest in nuclear cardiology imaging technology.

The Nuclear Cardiology team now has a £440,000 cardiac gamma camera, which will help up to 3,000 patients a year.

This state-of-the-art piece of kit was funded solely by Oxford Hospitals Charity, thanks to the generous support of donors and fundraisers in the local community.

The previous gamma camera at the Oxford Heart Centre was 15 years old, so this latest version is a dramatic improvement, cutting treatment times from 15-25 minutes to just three to five minutes.

Dr Sergei Pavlitchouk, Nuclear Cardiology Services Clinical Lead at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, said: "We really wanted this camera because the quality and resolution of the scans is much higher and as it's more sensitive equipment, scanning takes less time.

"We can also reduce radioactive doses, which means less exposure for patients and staff."

He added: "It's also very patient-oriented, because it's not enclosed. Patients sit in a chair, rather than lying down under the tube."

The new gamma camera uses cardiac nuclear imaging to help clinicians discover and evaluate the severity of coronary artery disease and cardiomyopathy (diseases of the heart muscle).

It can also help determine whether the heart has been damaged by chemotherapy or radiotherapy, so many cancer patients will also benefit from this advanced technology.

The new gamma camera also takes less time to scan each patient, so should reduce waiting times and cancellations.

Chair of Oxford Hospitals Charity, Professor David Matthews, said: "We are thrilled to bring this cutting-edge technology to our hospitals and are immensely grateful to the generous donors who have made this possible. It is wonderful to hear what a difference the new gamma camera is already making to patients."

Rosy Giedroyc, 82 from South Oxford, has been receiving treatment for high blood pressure at the John Radcliffe Hospital since having a stroke almost 30 years ago. She had a nuclear cardiac scan using the new gamma camera in January, to investigate whether she had angina.

She said: "They did one scan when I was sitting and another while lying down. Neither took longer than four minutes and one was probably nearer two minutes.

"The camera looks like a big box but doesn't press on you at all, and you don't have to undress. The whole thing was really very quick, and every stage of the procedure was carefully explained, which really helped and encouraged me."

She added: "They even brought me a cup of tea straight away afterwards. I was quite happy to stay for a while, as the atmosphere in the department was so mellow and calm. Nobody was rushing about frantically, and there was no noise."

Nuclear medicine uses tiny amounts of radioactive materials, called radiotracers, that are typically injected into the bloodstream, inhaled or swallowed.

The radiotracer travels through the area being examined and gives off energy in the form of gamma rays, which are detected by the special camera and a computer to create images of the inside of your body.

Normally, patients are asked to exercise on a bicycle or treadmill, so doctors can see how their heart reacts under stress, versus when at rest. Nuclear medicine imaging provides unique information that often cannot be obtained using other imaging procedures.

The test can show the size of the heart's chambers, how well it is pumping blood and whether there is any damaged or dead muscle. Nuclear stress tests can also give doctors information about whether arteries might be narrowed or blocked, because of coronary artery disease.

"The new scanner is magnificent"

A patient who has experience of both the old and new gamma cameras is Professor Dr Don Jenkins, an academic at Warwick University, who lives near Milton Keynes.

The 80-year-old had quadruple heart bypass surgery 15 years ago. A blood vessel from his leg used in the operation has since become blocked, and although doctors used angioplasty, they were unable to insert a stent.

This is where the new gamma camera came into its own, as the nuclear cardiology team used it to take a more detailed look at how the Professor's heart was coping.

Professor Jenkins said: "The doctors wanted to know whether that vein was causing real trouble, so the gamma camera scan was used to test my heart under stress.

"Although the camera showed part of my heart was not receiving enough blood when it was stressed, at other times, it was OK. So, the plan is not to do anything at the moment, because I don't have heart pain or angina."

Having had treatment with the old gamma camera on two previous occasions, the Professor confirmed the new equipment is quicker and less invasive for patients.

He added: "I think the new scanner is magnificent and I am so pleased that the team has got it."

Oxford Hospitals Charity raises funds to make a difference across the John Radcliffe, Churchill, Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, Horton General and Oxford Children's Hospitals. The charity funds state-of-the-art equipment and makes the hospitals more welcoming and comfortable for patients and their families.

The charity is currently running the Oxfordshire Heartfelt Appeal.

Pictured: Dr Sergei Pavlitchouk and the team with the new camera.

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