Chemotherapy has greatly improved cancer survival rates, especially in breast cancer patients. However, some chemotherapeutic drugs such as doxorubicin have side effects on the heart, and 5-10% of cancer survivors develop heart failure as a consequence of their cancer treatment. Unfortunately, it is not currently possible to predict which patient will suffer long-term heart problems due to their cancer therapy.
An imaging tool to screen patients regularly to check for early signs of toxicity on the heart is therefore desirable to detect any changes early and intervene with appropriate treatment. However, current clinical imaging is limited to detection of cardiac dysfunction, not prior toxic events. A recently developed imaging technique called “Hyperpolarized 13C Magnetic Resonance Imaging” allows us to assess real-time metabolic fluxes in vivo, and may therefore provide the ability to detect changes in mitochondrial metabolism and function in the doxorubicin treated heart. This technique has been pioneered in the UK in both the rodent and human heart by Professor Damian Tyler’s lab.