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Looking into the heart of the matter

July 18th, 2016
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The following article written by Erin Ellis appeared in the Vancouver Sun on July 17th, 2016. To read the full article, click here. 

A new imaging technology at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver is letting doctors see blockages in blood vessels leading to the heart without invasive probes.

It’s the only hospital in Canada to licence the web-based technology called HeartFlow FFRct (short for fractional flow reserve computed tomography) that takes information from regular CT scans and converts it to a three-dimensional image of the patient’s arteries near the heart. The image below from a single patient provided by St. Paul’s Hospital shows the difference between a CT scan, left, and a newer FFRct scan, right. The blocked artery — near the light spots at left — is creating ischemia or low blood flow to the heart as shown in red on the right.

Heartflow

This image from a single patient provided by St. Paul’s Hospital shows the difference between a CT scan, left, and a newer FFRct scan, right. The blocked artery — near the light spots at left — is creating ischemia or low blood flow to the heart as shown in red on the right.

It takes eight hours for the information to be sent, analyzed and returned from HeartFlow Inc’s offices in Redwood City, Calif., so it’s not used on emergency cases. Instead, patients with stable, persistent cardiac issues such as chest pain and atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beat) could get a CT scan that’s then converted to a more detailed image.

“The CT scan provides us with the anatomy and what we get from the FFRct modelling is physiology. We get flow, velocity and pressure. We know not all narrowings cause significant (blood) flow disturbance and only the significant ones need to be dealt with,” says Dr. Jonathon Leipsic, chairman of the Department of Radiology at Providence Health Care’s St. Paul’s Hospital.

It’s all done without resorting to more invasive catheter angiograms typically used to find clogged blood vessels. That procedure guides a thin tube into a coronary artery through an incision in the skin. A contrasting fluid is then injected through the catheter and it shows up on moving X-rays taken of the heart in action. An additional wire probe is added if doctors want to measure blood flow and pressure near the blockage, something FFRct imaging does through computer calculations.

St. Paul’s has access to FFRct for eight more months thanks to a donation from an anonymous former patient to the St. Paul’s Foundation, but Leipsic believes research will show it deserves long-term funding.

About 40 patients have already had a HeartFlow analysis and Leipsic hopes to provide it to 500 more patients while the hospital has the licence.

If you would like to donate to the St. Paul’s Foundation, and provide the support needed to purchase amazing equipment like Heartflow, click here. 

 

St. Paul's Foundation

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