Medical advances made through heart imaging technology


Physicians continue to get better at diagnosing patients and saving lives.

Technological breakthroughs and more advanced medical equipment are major reasons why.

Such is the case with the $1.5 million Aquillon CFX 64, the world’s most advanced computed tomography (CT) scanner, installed by Imaging Healthcare Specialists (IHS) at its Heart Imaging Center in La Jolla’s Golden Triangle.

Imaging Healthcare Specialists was founded in 2006 as a result of the merger between Open Air MRI and Radiology Medical Group.

Manufactured by Toshiba America Medical Systems, the Aquillon CFX 64 delivers high-speed, 64-slice, high-resolution images, capturing precise imagery of any area of the body, including the rapidly moving heart, with a single breath-hold. Multislice imaging is especially useful for examining patients who are unable to hold their breath, such as trauma victims, acutely ill patients and young children.

A series of X-ray beams create hundreds of cross-sectional images that depict slices of the patient’s body. In a matter of seconds, the CFX 64 system’s computer assembles the slices into two- and three-dimensional images that are interpreted by an IHS imaging specialist.

The Aquillon CFX 64 is faster and more accurate than traditional CT scanners. The heart frequently appears blurry when scanned by traditional 16- or 32-slice CT scanners. A coronary CT angiogram (CCTA) can be performed in less than 10 seconds. The images clearly visualize the heart, its vessel walls and surrounding structures to detect the early onset of coronary heart disease and reduce the need for high-risk surgical procedures.

Dr. Mark Schechter, a diagnostic and interventional radiologist, said the new CT scanner is a quantum leap in technological development because its ultra-thin, high-resolution image “slices” virtually freeze-frame the heart, the human body’s most rapidly moving organ.

“The upshot is we’re now able to get very detailed, high-resolution images of the coronary arteries and be able to detect blockages and plaque buildup in the wall of the arteries,” said Schechter. “Before, the coronary arteries were moving too fast to be (photographically) frozen and captured. They were just blurs.”

Schechter added the CT scanner is a non-invasive procedure that mimimizes impacts to the body. The new procedure, he added, is also useful with patients suspected of having coronary artery blockage, but whose symptoms are not typical of the disease. It’s also a useful device in separating those with heart-related problems from those whose symptoms are caused by problems elsewhere in the body.

“Lots of patients show up in emergency rooms with chest pain,” Schechter pointed out, “and two-thirds of them or more are from other causes than the heart. We can test them with the CT scanner and with great assurance - 95 percent - we can tell them whether they do or do not have heart disease.”

Schechter said there are limitations with the new high-speed CT Scan.”The accuracy of this test is tough to do with patients with lots of calcium in their coronary arteries,” he said. “The test is most accurate in patients with a minimal or mild amount of coronary calcium. The test cannot be done with patients with chronic renal disease, a history of severe contrast allergic reaction or abnormal or irregular heart rhythms.”

Schechter added it appears this CT scanning technology will someday be very accurate in analyzing the wall of the artery, being able to predict when patients have vulnerable plaque, not causing a blockage, but sitting there ready to rupture with the potential result of causing a heart attack.

The new Aquillon heart imaging procedure is done on an outpatient basis. In most cases, said Schechter, patients can drive themselves home after the procedure is complete. He added safe forms of oral medication can be administered to slow a patient’s heart rate down to make it more easy to image by the Aquillon scanner. “The next leap in technology will be an even faster scanner,” said Schechter, “allowing us to get high-resolution pictures without having to lower the heart rate. That’s one on the horizon.”

Coronary heart disease (CAD) is the leading cause of death in men and women in the United States. Death and disability from CAD can be significantly reduced by early diagnosis and preventive treatment.

The 64-slice CT scanning procedure is now covered by Medicare, including the calcium scoring and coronary CT angiogram (CCTA) tests for coronary heart disease.

Based in San Diego, Imaging Healthcare Specialists operates San Diego’s largest network of outpatient diagnostic imaging centers. The company’s La Jolla facility, the Heart Imaging Center, recently installed the computed tomography (CT) scanner, the Aquillon CFX 64 from Toshiba America Medical Systems. In addition to 64-slice CT services, IHS also offers Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Positron Emission Tomography (PET), PET/CT, ultrasound, mammography and interventional radiology procedures at its 14 imaging centers located throughout San Diego, Riverside and Orange counties. Physicians have relied on IHS and its predecessor firms since 1917.

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