Peering inside a blood vessel

Concerned that a patient is suffering from a blocked blood vessel, a doctor might snake a catheter through the blood vessel system to the blocked artery, inject a contrast agent and take X-ray images of the site.

It's a common procedure regarded as the best method of 'seeing' such blockages.

But a University of Alberta researcher is trying to develop a less invasive way of getting the job done, providing more detailed information about what's going on inside a blood vessel while causing less discomfort to patients.

Dr. Alan Wilman is one of 43 medical and health researchers sharing in more than $27.5 million in Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research personnel grants awarded across Alberta today. At the U of A alone, 20 researchers have been awarded $12 million.

Wilman, a physicist, designs Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) techniques that provide highly detailed images of blood vessels. His previous achievements include developing a new MRI technique used to diagnose blood-vessel disease in more than a half-million patients worldwide each year.

Now he's trying to further refine the techniques, using double and triple the strength of magnetic fields used in clinical MRIs.

"The idea is to develop a safer and cheaper alternative that gives the same or better results," said Wilman, who earned his PhD in physics at the U of A, then moved to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to conduct research before being lured back to the U of A with AHFMR funding.

Blood vessel diseases, including heart attacks and strokes, are the number one cause of death in Canada, and Wilman, who teaches in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, hopes his work will help prevent deaths by aiding in diagnosing these conditions.

"There is an illusion that MRIs are expensive. But if you can diagnose a stroke or a heart attack before it happens, you will save the health-care system money," he said.

The techniques he'

Contact: Phoebe Dey
University of Alberta

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