The first patients have used a new £13m research centre that hopes to improve care for heart attack and stroke patients.

It will use the latest imaging and diagnostic technology, replacing the current system of 100-year-old electrocardiograms (ECG) to act quickly in the critical first 24 hours after an attack.

The Oxford Acute Vascular Imaging Centre (AVIC) opened last week at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital.

It is hoped the state-of-the-art imaging technologies will provide doctors with detailed and precise information soon after a patient suffers a heart attack.

The centre’s position right next to the emergency department and the Oxford Heart Centre at the hospital means patients can be moved into the centre for potentially life saving scans with no loss of precious time.

Doctors believe the set-up – a combination of catheter lab and MRI in an emergency medicine setting – is internationally unique.

Professor Robin Choudhury, AVIC clinical director, said doctors would gain a greater understanding of the effects on a patient's heart or brain at the time of a heart attack or stroke.

He said: “When we first see a patient with a heart attack, the first steps are to talk to the patient, to get a case history and take an ECG – a 100-year-old technology that is an indirect measure of electrical activity in the heart, “The ECG provides really superficial information when we want to be able to make critical decisions quickly about the patient.

“It tells us little about the precise causation, the nature and extent of tissue damage or, importantly, how much the heart tissue is likely to recover and repair itself.

“A similar set of problems exists in stroke medicine.”

AVIC has both a catheter lab and an MRI scanner separated by a set of hydraulic doors.

Rails in the floor allow patients to be transported smoothly between the two, rather than having to transport them between treatments on a trolley.

Following a successful pilot, the centre is expected to treat about 1,000 patients a year.

Funding for the centre has come predominantly from the Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation (BHF), Department of Health and the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the BHF, which co-funded the building and equipment for the new centre, said: “We are delighted to be supporting this truly world-leading facility, which is already breaking new ground in the fight against heart disease. Thanks to the donations of our supporters, these scientists are pushing the boundaries of what's possible in heart research.

“Doctors at the centre will use state-of-the-art scanners to take detailed heart images in that crucial window just after a heart attack.

“This will give us new clues about how to improve future care, and help us all in our efforts to find new and better ways to diagnose and treat heart disease.”