European funding to push the limits of cardiac MRI

Among the laureates of the European Research Council’s "Starting Grant" announced on November 22nd, Aurélien Bustin, researcher at IHU Liryc, has been awarded funding for his SMHEART project which aims to push the limits of cardiac MRI. Two CNRS scientists, Chloé Grazon at the Institute of Molecular Sciences and Samuel Beaulieu at the Center of Intense Lasers and Applications (CELIA) have also been honored by the ERC.

  • 08/12/2022

Aurélien Bustin, ERC Starting Grant laureate © IHU Liryc Aurélien Bustin, ERC Starting Grant laureate © IHU Liryc

The European Research Council announced the list of ERC-2022-Starting Grant (Horizon Europe) laureates on November 22nd, for young researchers with innovative and ambitious projects. Among the awardees is Professor Aurélien Bustin, researcher at IHU Liryc and Bordeaux University Hospital within the cardiovascular imaging department, Assistant Professor at the University of Bordeaux and invited researcher at the CHUV of Lausanne, who has been awarded 1.5 million euros of funding for his cardiac imaging project "SMHEART".

What does your research consist of?

My personal line of research lies at the boundary of cardiology, medical imaging and data science to help improve patient care. The approach, rather avant-gardist, is inspired by my international academic and professional experience, that has allowed me to have a multidisciplinary and translational view and to understand cardiac imaging from several angles.

My experience at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), the Technical University of Munich (TUM), King’s College London (KCL), and finally at IHU Liryc has led me to work both on advanced cardiac imaging and on image reconstruction, pushing the limits of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

My work has also allowed new technologies to be brought from the lab to patients’ bedsides thanks to collaboration with the academic world, hospitals and industry. Several hundred patients have already benefited from these new technologies over the past few years at Bordeaux University Hospital.

Which scientific challenge does your research project funded by the European Research Council respond to?

In order to understand and treat cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death worldwide, MRI remains the only modality capable of providing a comprehensive assessment of the function and structure of the heart without exposing the patient or operator to potentially harmful ionizing radiation.

As a mathematician entering the field of cardiac MRI, I have witnessed the same problem in every hospital I’ve had the chance to work in: radiographers are drowned in hundreds of complex MRI sequences, collecting between 800 and 1 000 images per exam, while clinicians spend a considerable amount of time drawing circles on these images in the aim of locating the heart and extracting relevant diagnostic elements. On the scientific level, I was impressed by the lack of interaction between the scientific fields involved in the development of MRI techniques; with radiographers, physicists, developers of image acquisition tools, mathematicians, designers of reconstruction algorithms, image processing experts and clinicians mostly working in silos. This compartmentalization of specialties is an obstacle to a detailed and more complete study of cardiac pathologies.

Besides these observations, from the point of view of the patient journey, I was struck by the difficulty of an examination, with a large number of apneas requested from our patients (one hundred, compared to none for a brain MRI). There is therefore an urgent need for discoveries and innovations in this area.

The SMHEART cardiac imaging project © IHU Liryc - Aurélien Bustin

The SMHEART cardiac imaging project © IHU Liryc - Aurélien Bustin

What is the objective of the SMHEART project?

The objective of the ERC SMHEART project is to unleash the full potential of MRI by introducing a fast, one-click, fully automated and comprehensive imaging pipeline, suitable for diagnosis, for prognosis and cardiology therapy selection.

Current MRI systems are too slow, too complex and require highly qualified specialists. A one-click approach to quickly collect a single 3D multiparametervolume of the whole heart in free breathing, therefore more comfortable for the patient, with automated extraction of cardiac tissue anatomy, function and characteristics, thanks to artificial intelligence, will directly improve patient care.
This is not only the prerequisite for wider adoption of MRI in cardiology and the opportunity for better diagnosis, but it also offers the opportunity of to improve knowledge of cardiovascular diseases through a multiparametric approach. The results of this project will pave the way for robust image-based strategies for personalized patient care (diagnosis, risk stratification, therapy selection, monitoring and imaging-guided interventions).

Concretely, what will the funding contribute to?

The funding will help recruit physicists, mathematicians, computer engineers, and clinicians who will work together at the interface between medical imaging, artificial intelligence, software development, and clinical translation to develop this new imaging solution.

The research project will begin in 2023 for 5 years and will first include a pre-clinical exploration phase and then a clinical study that will include cohorts of healthy patients and volunteers.


2 ERC Starting Grants for CNRS scientists on the Bordeaux campus

Chloé Grazon at the Institute of Molecular Sciences (IMS, Bordeaux INP Unit, CNRS and University of Bordeaux)

In her ERC COMET project, Chloé Grazon wants to develop organic nanoparticles capable of exchanging energy with each other. Decorated with bioreceptors (DNA, proteins), these nano-probes can emit complex signals, and thus measure the concentration of various molecules, including, for example, opiates.

Find out more: CNRS Institute of Chemistry website 

Samuel Beaulieu at the Center of Intense Lasers and Applications (CELIA, CEA Unit, CNRS and University of Bordeaux)

Controlling and probing the topology of electrons within matter remain major challenges in contemporary physics. Simon Beaulieu’s UTOPIQ project therefore aims to address these two fundamental challenges. New techniques allowing the measurement of electron topology in quantum materials will be developed.

Find out more: CNRS Physics Institute website


Aurélien Bustin
Researcher at IHU Liryc