Cardiologists could soon have 3-D images of their patients' coronary arteries at their fingertips and better treat heart disease thanks to a new software unveiled by researchers on Tuesday.
The technology, which has just been tested for the first time on people, remains in the early stages of testing, according to a feasibility study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Interventions, an American Heart Association journal.
"This is very exciting technology that holds great promise," study investigator John Carroll, a professor of medicine and director of interventional cardiology in the Division of Cardiology at the University of Colorado in Aurora, said in a statement.
The study allows doctors to assess more accurately and rapidly the length, branching pattern and angles of heart arteries, as well as any blockages.
Cardiologists currently use two-dimensional X-ray images shot from different angles to visualize arteries inside the body.
They also inject contrast dye into a thin tube -- a catheter -- inserted into a patient's leg artery and threaded up to the heart to produce shadow images during a cardiac catheterization procedure.
Although it uses existing X-ray systems, the new software could reduce the need for several of the images, thus reducing patients' exposure to radiation and contrast dye while also decreasing the time doctors need to analyze the images, the study's authors explained.
The researchers compared standard 2-D images to automatically generated 3-D computer images of the coronary artery systems of 23 patients.
"This is the first in-human use," Carroll explained. "The next step is to test it in multiple centers around the world. In addition, we'll formally test it to see the impact on clinical care."
Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the United States. It is responsible for 17 million deaths worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization.
Philips Healthcare funded the study.