WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center are the first in the world to report success using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to view the heart during vigorous beating and to diagnose blocked arteries based on an abnormal pumping motion.
The new test was made possible by speeding up the MRI scanner and creating new software that allows for imaging that is very close to "real-time." Doctors can see heart movement within seconds after it happens. Previously, it took an average of five minutes to see the images.
The researchers say this is an important step toward using MRI as a screening and diagnostic tool for heart disease.
"A lot of new doors have been opened with this technology," said Greg Hundley, M.D., assistant professor of cardiology and radiology and leader of the Medical Center's MRI research team.
In the current issue of Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association, the researchers report using the new test as an alternative for patients unable to have an ultrasound test to image the heart. Ultrasound is currently the most common non-invasive test for detecting heart disease. About 10-20 percent of people, however, cannot have the ultrasound test because they are obese or have health conditions, such as emphysema, that interfere with getting a clear image of the heart.
"MRI gives you a non-invasive alternative for people who cannot have an ultrasound, who are often our sickest patients," said Hundley.
More than 350 Medical Center patients have had the MRI test, which researchers said is just as accurate as ultrasound at diagnosing blocked arteries. Patients spend about 35 minutes in the MRI scanner.
Craig Hamilton, Ph.D., assistant professor of radiology, developed the software that allows the researchers to see the heart's action almost immediately.