Portable magnetomer scans heart faster, allows use in homes

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Researchers at the University of Leeds in England report that a portable magnetometer may be able to detect heart conditions more rapidly than ultrasound, electrocardiogram and cardiac magnetometer techniques, due to its sensitivity to magnetic fluctuations.

Research of the device, still in the development phase, is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The device, particularly effective for detecting ischemia, could also be successful in reducing the time for surgical procedures in patients with arrhythmias, according to the researchers. In addition, the heart scanner could have the potential to reduce the time it takes to scan the heart by 80 percent compared to other contemporary techniques.

According to the researchers, the magnetometer reveals tiny variations within the hearts magnetic signature that can help to reveal the presence of a cardiac condition.

"The sensor placed over the area being examined lives outside the shielded area and transmits signals into the detector. The sensor head is made up of a series of coils that cancel out unwanted signals and amplifies the signals that are needed. So the tiny magnetic fields produced by a person's heart can be transmitted into the heavily shielded environment," said lead researcher Ben Varcoe, a professor at the University of Leeds.

According to the EPSRC, the device can scan through a patient’s clothes and can be performed in a patient’s home in hopes to cut down on the use of healthcare facilities.

Researchers are working to miniaturizing the magnetometer for widespread medical use and suspect that it will be available for use in three years.

"The new system gets around previous difficulties by putting the actual detector in its own magnetic shield," said Varcoe.