SOURCE: Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas

April 17, 2008 11:30 ET

New 3D Imaging Technology Reveals Heart's 'Unanswered Questions'

DALLAS, TX--(Marketwire - April 17, 2008) - Cardiovascular surgeons and anesthesiologists at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas have begun using a new type of echocardiogram that provides the first-ever live 3D images of the beating heart moments before surgery. The technology is expected to help surgeons better determine the course of open-heart surgeries and better treat people with heart failure, one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

"Ultrasound imaging is beneficial because it is a relatively non-invasive way to look inside the body," said Dr. Melvin Platt, medical director of cardiovascular surgery at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. "But until now those images left many unanswered questions. There's no question this technology adds a whole new dimension to what we're able to see."

The 3D images are generated through a probe inserted into the patient's throat before surgery. The device uses ultrasound, which are high-frequency sound waves that produce moving images of the body's internal soft tissues. The common cardiac ultrasound used up to now provided only flat, two-dimensional images in black and white.

"This is an important technology because it will allow us to better determine the health of different parts of the heart," Dr. Platt said. "In some cases, it may eliminate the need to replace heart valves that we otherwise would not have known were healthy. But its primary value is in giving us better definition of valve abnormalities that do require treatment so the most effective therapy can be carried out."

Until now, doctors only could see 3-D images of heart valves by actually looking directly at the valves during surgery -- after the surgical site was 'open' and the patient had been put on the bypass machine. "At that point, the heart isn't moving, so you're not able to determine the functional integrity of the valve as it pumps blood," Dr. Platt said. "With these live 3-D pictures, we can now see those valves at work."

The 3D images also can be taken before surgeons close the surgical site, telling them whether any leaks exist or additional procedures are needed.

"Without this, you're not able to get some important feedback until the procedure is over and the surgeon has closed the patient up," said Dr. Thomas Russell, a cardiac anesthesiologist at Presbyterian. "Now, we can generate live 3D images in the operating room during surgery, which tells us if there are any complications that need to be addressed."

Since the images provide more information about the heart, surgeons will better know which parts need to be examined -- and whether they can be repaired rather than replaced. Valve replacement surgery, while an effective treatment in most cases, often requires that patients take blood thinners for the rest of their lives, which can increase the risk of stroke. Repaired valves also tend to last longer than replacement valves, which come from animal or cadaver tissue.

Heart failure, which includes faulty mitral and aortic heart valves that can now be seen more clearly with the new 3D technology, is the leading cause of hospital admissions in the United States and one of deadliest diseases in the world.

According to the American Heart Association, there are about 5 million heart failure patients in the United States and 550,000 new cases of heart failure diagnosed annually. This includes 10 out of every 1,000 people over the age of 65. Of newly diagnosed patients under the age of 65, about 80 percent of the men and 70 percent of the women will die within eight years.

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