The current gold standard test for examining myocardial tissue is a contrast-enhanced MRI called “Late gadolinium enhancement (LGE) cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR)”. The process involves injecting the contrast using an IV. This, while usually safe, is contraindicated in people suffering from contrast allergy or kidney failure.
To resolve these issues, a multi-institutional team of researchers has introduced an artificially intelligent technology that can enhance the images from CMR using its deep learning protocol –without the need for LGE. They call the AI “Virtual Native Enhancement” (VNE).
Currently, the team has trained the VNE system to help diagnose a CVS disease known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is a common genetic disorder that results in the heart tissue losing its elasticity. Because the heart can’t contract and expand, its ability to pump blood around the body gets diminished. The disease’s identification marker is scarring in the heart tissue, which the research team aims to capture using VNE.
Testing the VNE on Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy patients
The team tested the VNE using 4093 CMR images provided by more than 1300 patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. These also included images procured using LGE to compare the VNE generated images with.
They then used the AI to help find the scar tissue on the images. The VNE combined two types of CMR images: T1-maps (depicting tissue T1 relaxation times) and cines (moving images of the heart’s function). Using this technique, it produced CMR imaged that had “significantly better image quality than LGE”, as reported by the study.
According to researcher Christopher Kramer, MD, the chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at UVA Health:
“This is a potentially important advance, especially if it can be expanded to other patient groups. Being able to identify scar in the heart, an important contributor to progression to heart failure and sudden cardiac death, without contrast, would be highly significant. CMR scans would be done without contrast, saving cost and any risk, albeit low, from the contrast agent.”
Furthermore, the researcher’s work on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is just the tip of the iceberg. They explain that the technology is easily adaptable to other myocardial diseases so that contrast enhancement isn’t needed.
Source: University of Virginia Health