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Cutting-Edge Virtual Blood Vessel Technology Could Prevent Unnecessary Invasive Stent Placements

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 07 Jun 2023
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Image: Virtual blood vessel technology could improve heart disease care (Photo courtesy of BHF)
Image: Virtual blood vessel technology could improve heart disease care (Photo courtesy of BHF)

Coronary angiogram, a medical procedure often used to look for potential blockages within a patient's coronary arteries, can sometimes prove difficult to interpret, particularly when an artery is only partially obstructed. Such instances can complicate treatment plans, especially in cases involving complex heart diseases. Now, cutting-edge technology that creates 3D computer models of blood flow through the heart's arteries can benefit heart disease patients by preventing such invasive procedures.

The innovative VIRTUHeart technology, developed by researchers at the University of Sheffield (Sheffield, UK), re-creates the less commonly used but highly invasive Fractional Flow Reserve (FFR) test. This test involves inserting a special wire into the arteries to gauge blood flow. However, factors such as time constraints, availability, complex anatomy, and the practitioner's level of familiarity with the process often lead to FFR being underused. By utilizing a patient's angiogram images, the VIRTUHeart system generates a "virtual FFR", creating computer models of their blood vessels, thus enabling doctors to evaluate blood flow and gain more comprehensive insights into the blockages.

Researchers examined the effectiveness of VIRTUHeart in a trial involving doctors treating heart attack patients. The findings suggested that over 20% of patient treatments would have been altered if VIRTUHeart technology was used. It could also have reduced the need for invasive procedures such as stent implantation in a number of cases. The research also indicated that VIRTUHeart could optimize treatment plans tailored to individual patient's needs, reduce doctors' workloads, and improve the efficiency of heart care services. The researchers are presently studying the possible impacts of wide-scale application of this technology within the UK's National Health Service (NHS), including potential effects on waiting lists. The researchers expect the technology to become operational within a timeframe of three years.

“By giving doctors a better understanding of what is happening inside their patient’s blood vessels, we’ve shown that this technology has the potential to help improve how we assess and treat heart disease, ensuring patients have the treatment that best meets their needs,” said Dr. Hazel Arfah Haley, Interventional Cardiologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who led the study. “Our team are also investigating whether VIRTUHeart could improve treatment for people with another common heart condition called angina, helping to make sure that even more patients get the treatment they need first time around.”

Related Links:
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