Virtual heart tool to predict sudden cardiac death risk

PRESS TRUST OF INDIA Washington | Updated on January 20, 2018

Helps doctors in identifying patients in need of implant

Scientists have developed a non-invasive, personalised 3-D virtual heart assessment tool to help doctors determine whether a patient faces a risk of life-threatening arrhythmia, a condition when the heart rhythm is irregular or abnormal.

When electrical waves in the heart run amok, sudden death can occur, researchers said. To save the life of a patient at risk, doctors currently implant a small defibrillator to sense the onset of arrhythmia, and jolt the heart back to a normal rhythm.

However, it is difficult to decide which patients truly need the invasive, costly electrical implant.


“Our virtual heart test significantly outperformed several existing clinical metrics in predicting future arrhythmic events,” said Natalia Trayanova from Johns Hopkins University in the U.S.

“This non-invasive and personalised virtual heart-risk assessment could help prevent sudden cardiac deaths and allow patients who are not at risk to avoid unnecessary defibrillator implantations,” said Dr. Trayanova. Researchers made predictions by using the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) records of patients who had survived a heart attack but were left with damaged cardiac tissue that predisposes the heart to deadly arrhythmias.

The study involved data from 41 patients who had survived a heart attack and had an ejection fraction — a measure of how much blood is being pumped out of the heart — of less than 35 per cent.

Researchers used pre-implant MRI scans of the recipients’ hearts to build patient-specific digital replicas of the organs.

Using computer-modelling techniques, the geometrical replica of each patient’s heart was brought to life by incorporating representations of the electrical processes in the cardiac cells and the communication among cells.

In some cases, the virtual heart developed an arrhythmia, and in others it did not. The result — a non-invasive way to gauge the risk of sudden cardiac death due to arrhythmia — was dubbed VARP, short for virtual-heart arrhythmia risk predictor.

Impact of scar tissue

The method allowed researchers to factor in the geometry of the patient’s heart, the way electrical waves move through it and the impact of scar tissue left by the earlier heart attack.

“We demonstrated that VARP is better than any other arrhythmia prediction method out there,” said Dr. Trayanova.

"The approach will provide doctors with a tool to identify patients truly in need of the costly implantable device, and those for whom the device will not provide any life-saving benefits,” she said.

Published on May 11, 2016

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