Surrey research Park

Surrey Research Park is home to a pioneering company which sees great potential after a breakthrough in its new, non-invasive, heart screening equipment

According to the World Health Organisation, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally, taking an estimated 17.9 million lives each year. The most common heart condition in the UK is coronary heart disease, but the sad reality is that you might not know you are living with it until you have a heart attack, angina, stroke or heart failure, and by then, it could be too late.

Detecting heart disease as early as possible is critical to saving lives, and this is why we need to harness and develop state-of-the-art diagnostic techniques. Leading the way in this field is the Virtual Cath Lab (VCL), based at Surrey Research Park in Guildford.

This medical imaging start-up, headed up by Dr Edward Leatham, a Consultant Cardiologist and Physician with over
25 years’ experience in medicine, specialises in the early diagnosis, investigation and treatment of patients with all forms of heart disease.

Central to the organisation’s ethos is delivering an excellent patient experience. VCL, in partnership with its clinical host Surrey Cardiovascular Clinic (SCVC), operates as a highly efficient ‘one-stop shop’ offering a wide range of screening and consultation services, with appointments with any necessary diagnostic investigations that can be conveniently grouped into one consultation and visit.

 Dr Leatham and the team are passionate about providing access to the latest heart scan technology to diagnose and prevent heart disease – potentially many years before symptoms would otherwise develop. In 2020, the company launched ‘Heartscan Direct.’ The service utilises trailblazing CT heart scanning technology and software to digitally produce an exact 3D ‘virtual’ version of the heart in seconds. It allows early detection and diagnosis of heart disease and other coronary issues and can save patients from undergoing invasive testing.

The independent clinic’s scanning capabilities are continually evolving. VCL’s latest innovation is a brand-new MRI facility, which opened in February this year. It is tackling the age-old problem of MRI scans being prohibited for patients with pacemakers due to safety concerns.

The powerful magnetic and radiofrequency fields generated during MRI imaging have been found to affect pacemakers, with malfunctions sometimes even resulting in patient mortality. Due to the risks involved, a ban was put in place by many MRI providers. But over time, this has created a backlog in the NHS, with many people waiting up to a year for scans or unable to get them at all.


VCL’s vision is to be the face of the solution to the NHS problem. It is offering a cutting-edge MRI service specifically for people who have got a pacemaker device, providing a safe environment with all of the best facilities, specialist cardiologists and technicians on hand to take proper care of patients with pacemakers. The first batch of patients had scans earlier this month, and despite the snow and various technical issues on the day, the procedures went smoothly, with no cardiac arrests. 

Now, VCL is encouraging other clinics to follow the lead and utilise the same model that it has developed. “We set out to create innovation that breaks down the formidable barriers to show the way for other clinical groups passionate about healthcare to join the expanding fleet of independent providers that this nation desperately needs to modernise healthcare,” explains Dr Leatham. “Our service delivery model has smashed all expectations, so we are hoping to see our service, tried and tested in the Surrey Research Park, being followed elsewhere.”

Dr Leatham says that the cooperation and support of Surrey Research Park has been paramount to the services that VCL and SCVC are providing. The Park itself, he explains, is the ideal environment to foster medical developments, which could drive innovation across the country.

So, what’s next? Dr Leatham hints towards the vast possibilities of machine learning and AI (Artificial Intelligence) that can be used to identify people at high risk of heart disease years before symptoms develop. This will be a real game changer for the medical industry and one that the Virtual Cath Lab, as a pioneering UK specialist, is perfectly positioned to be part of.

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