New MRI Technology Spots Scar Tissue Using AI

A new technology called “virtual native enhancement” (VNE) may soon eliminate the need for gadolinium as a contrast agent for patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy undergoing cardiac MRI. Gadolinium, a heavy metal contrast agent which is injected intravenously, has long been used in cardiac MRI scans to spot cardiac scar tissue in patients with HCM.  In 2017, the FDA issued a safety communication relating to gadolinium  because it was found that gadolinium remains in the body for months to years after the use of the drug.

The new VNE technology, recently described in the journal Circulation, uses artificial intelligence (AI) to virtually enhance the standard MRI image. The technology was developed using data taken from 1348 HCM patients and was validated in the HCM population, but the technology may have uses extending beyond HCM.

By avoiding the use of the contrast agent, this technology avoids side effects and long term consequences from the use of gadolinium. Additionally, it will make cardiac MRI available to patients who are allergic to gadolinium. VNE is also faster and cheaper that current technology used for cardiac MRI, which may make more frequent MRI monitoring of patients feasible.  

To read more about VNE, see also this article in UVA Today, this article in ACM Tech News,  this article in Engineering and Technology, and this article in Science Daily.

Cardiac MRI Helps Assess Sudden Death Risk

A recent study by doctors at the Cleveland Clinic suggests that the presence of late gadolinium enhancement  (LGE) should be added to the various risk factors currently used to assess patients who are at low or intermediate risk of sudden death.  The presence and balancing of these risk factors are used by patients and doctors to determine the need for implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs).   LGE is an indication of cardiac scar tissue and can be seen on cardiac MRI scans.  This study recommended that LGE comprising a total of 15% or more of left ventricular mass be used as an additional risk factor. The study found that this indicator worked equally well when applied to both obstructed and non-obstructive HCM patients.

Interestingly, an earlier but recent study published by Cleveland Clinic doctors found that the risk factors currently in use to determine the need for an ICD fall short as applied to patients with the obstructive form of HCM.

Risk factors in common use today have been propounded by the American College of CardiologyAmerican Heart Association (ACC/AHA) in the U.S., while a different set of guideline and a mathematical risk calculator was promulgated more recently in Europe by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).  You can find more about the ACC/AHA and ESC guidelines here.

A second and related finding of this study by the Cleveland Clinic, known for its large HCM program and high volume of myectomies, was that patients who undego  myectomy appear to experience a protective effect from their surgeries.  Even when found to have 25% or more LGE, patients in this study who previously underwent myectomy experienced a lower than expected rate of adverse events.