A new highly-sensitive cardiac scanner using magnetic field analysis will make earlier diagnosis of heart conditions possible.
The new portable magnetometer, developed from research in quantum physics, is being developed at the University of Leeds with support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
The device's unique sensitivity to magnetic fluctuations enables it to detect a number of conditions, including heart problems in foetuses, earlier than currently available scanners.
The portable magnetometer will also be cheaper, smaller, simpler to operate and able to gather more information than other technologies. For the first time, nurses as well as doctors will be able to carry out heart scans. The device can be used through clothes, and can be taken to a patient's home.
"What we've been able to do is combine existing technology from the areas of atomic physics and medical physics in a completely unique way," said Professor Ben Varcoe, who is leading the research team.
The new magnetometer can reveal tiny variations in the heart's distinctive magnetic 'signature' that indicate a cardiac condition. The team is working to miniaturise the device, which could be ready for use in routine diagnosis within three years.
"Early detection of heart conditions improves the prospects for successful treatment. This system will also quickly identify people who need immediate treatment," said Professor Varcoe. "But our device won't just benefit patients - it will also help ease the strain on healthcare resources and hospital waiting lists."
The device is expected to be particularly effective in detecting ischaemic heart disease. It could also shorten surgical procedures to correct cardiac arrhythmia: scanning the heart with the new device during the operation would offer a much quicker way of pinpointing the node to be cauterised, reducing the time needed by 80%.