A new screening test developed by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston promises to detect coronary artery disease in just 15 minutes with a basic MRI that doesn’t require the use of controversial, potentially toxic gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs).

This noninvasive MRI is an alternative to the Pharmacological Cardiac MRI Stress Test that’s currently used when a standard treadmill-type exercise stress test is either too taxing or does not yield useful results for a particular individual.

The pharmacological MRI requires the use of a toxic contrast agent, gadolinium dye, which enhances image quality and is administered by injection. Chemical compounds called chelating agents are added to the gadolinium in an effort to mitigate gadolinium’s toxicity.

However, there’s considerable debate over how safe these various gadolinium formulas really are, especially since recent research published in the National Library of Medicine indicates that gadolinium forms deposits in the brain and other organs such as the skin, bone and liver, putting patients at risk in a way not previously suspected.

The new noninvasive screening technique involves measuring changes in the magnetic properties of heart muscle tissue following exercise stress tests. The technique was developed by having subjects pedaling on a bicycle while lying down inside an open MRI and by comparing post-exercise heart tissue changes in healthy subjects with changes in subjects with coronary artery disease.

Larger studies, researchers say, are needed to confirm the reliability of the test.

Also known as “clogged arteries,” coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of death from heart disease for both men and women in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 370,000 annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The condition involves the buildup of plaque (cholesterol deposits) along the arterial walls which then restricts or blocks the flow of blood, oxygen and other nutrients to the heart in a process known as “hardening of the arteries,” or atherosclerosis.

Coronary artery disease can cause heart pain, irregular heartbeat, heart attack and heart failure.