Heart disease computer will 'revolutionise' cardiac treatment

Funding to take prototype forward in effort to provide 'breakthrough' insight into cardiac disease

A computer system that assesses heart disease better than the naked eye could revolutionise the way patients with conditions such angina and heart attack are assessed and treated.

The new prototype technology has been developed and built by doctors and researchers from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield. It is capable of detecting which heart patients need treatment more sensitively and more accurately than the human eye by creating a 3D model of the coronary arteries during an angiogram. This reduces the need for further invasive tests and procedures.

Now the state-of-the-art software is to be trialled on 100 heart disease patients from the South Yorkshire area thanks to a £800,000, three-year award supported by the Wellcome Trust, the Department of Health and the British Heart Foundation.

The technology could play a vital role in tackling coronary heart disease, which remains the UK’s biggest killer.

Any patient with coronary heart disease who has an angiogram can, in the future, have a computerised assessment of the significance of their disease. This will enable the cardiologist or surgeon to know where to place a bypass graft or stent without any further tests, so this is a real breakthrough for patients

Last year around 48,000 people suffered a heart attack in South Yorkshire alone. This includes around 9,700 people in Barnsley, 11,000 in Doncaster, 9,600 in Rotherham and nearly 17,700 in Sheffield.

Doctors currently decide how to treat coronary artery disease by looking at X-ray pictures of the arteries - an angiogram. This involves inserting a tube through the wrist or groin and injecting dye into the arteries to find out where, and how severely, the coronary arteries are diseased. This is an excellent test, but when the arteries are neither completely normal nor completely blocked up, the results can be open to potential differences of interpretation.

Dr Julian Gunn, a consultant cardiologist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and a senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Cardiovascular Science, said: “Heart disease remains one of the world’s biggest killers, so we’re delighted that the Sheffield team is leading the way with this research.

“Any patient with coronary heart disease who has an angiogram can, in the future, have a computerised assessment of the significance of their disease. This will enable the cardiologist or surgeon to know where to place a bypass graft or stent without any further tests, so this is a real breakthrough for patients.

“The technology will further improve the diagnosis and may reduce the need for some patients to have more invasive tests afterwards. It will also help doctors to decide which arteries need treating, and even which bits of which arteries, and guide that therapy.”

During the three-year study the Sheffield research team, led by Dr Julian Gunn, in collaboration with colleagues at the hospital and the university, will test the system on patients with more complicated heart disease to assess the feasibility of using it on a wider scale. They will also work to improve the accuracy and speed of the software to ensure results are available quickly, so that doctors can make prompt decisions about treatment while patients are in the examination room.

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