New 3D imaging technology reveals heart's secrets

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A new type of echocardiogram that provides live 3D images of the beating heart moments before surgery is being used by cardiovascular surgeons and anesthesiologists at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. 

The technology is expected to help surgeons better determine the course of open-heart surgeries and better treat people with heart failure, according to Melvin Platt, MD, medical director of cardiovascular surgery at the hospital.

"Ultrasound imaging is beneficial because it is a relatively non-invasive way to look inside the body," said Platt. "But until now those images left many unanswered questions. There's no question this technology adds a whole new dimension to what we're able to see."

Using ultrasound, the 3D images are generated through a probe inserted into the patient's throat before surgery. The common cardiac ultrasound currently used provides flat, 2D black and white images.

Platt said that in some cases, it may eliminate the need to replace heart valves that doctors otherwise would not have known were healthy. He added that the primary value is in providing better definition of valve abnormalities that do require treatment so the “most effective therapy can be carried out.”

Until now, Platt said doctors only could see 3D images of heart valves by actually looking directly at the valves during surgery, after the surgical site was 'open' and the patient had been put on the bypass machine. With these live 3D pictures, he said they can now see those valves at work during surgery to determine if there are any complications that need to be addressed.