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'Virtual heart' can predict cardiac risk

Press AssociationPress Association 10/05/2016 John Von Radowitz

A computer-generated "virtual heart" can accurately predict the risk of sudden cardiac death, say scientists.

The 3D simulation was developed to help doctors identify patients with life-threatening irregular heart beats, or arrhythmias.

The model is based on distinctive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) heart scans of patients left with damaged cardiac tissue after surviving heart attacks.

Spotting those at high risk of sudden death could allow doctors to determine which patients might benefit most from a defibrillator implant.

Fitting the implants, which sense the onset of irregular heart beats and jolt the heart back to a normal rhythm, involves invasive, risky and costly surgery.

Lead researcher Professor Natalia Trayanova, from Johns Hopkins University in the US, said: "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."

The system, called VARP (Virtual-heart Arrhythmia Risk Predictor), uses MRI scan results to build patient-specific digital replicas of damaged hearts.

Scientists factor in the geometry of the heart, and the impact of scar tissue left by the earlier heart attack.

In a study of 41 patients, individual health records showed that participants testing positive for arrhythmia risk using VARP were four times more likely to have developed an irregular heart beat than those who tested negative.

The model was four to five times better than other methods at predicting arrhythmia occurrence, the researchers reported in the journal Nature Communications.

Co-author Dr Katherine Wu, from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said it was a groundbreaking development, as cardiologists were now able to use all the data they collect to provide individualised care.

Building a model heart, doctors are "able to test the heart virtually to see how irritable it is under certain situations" without needing the patient to undergo an invasive procedure, Wu said.

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