Scientists from University of Colorado have developed a 3D software that would allow cardiologists to more accurately assess artery blockages.

Currently, doctors take multiple two-dimensional X-ray images from different views to visualize what the arteries look like inside the body. The new software, which uses existing X-ray systems, could reduce the need for multiple X-rays, thus decreasing patients’ exposure to radiation and contrast dye and cutting the time doctors spend analyzing the images.

“Coronary interventions may be improved by having a realistic 3D image of the coronary artery tree,” said Dr. John. D. Carroll, an investigator for the study and professor of medicine and director of interventional cardiology in the Division of Cardiology at the University of Colorado in Aurora, Colo. During a cardiac catheterization procedure, doctors insert a thin tube called a catheter into a patient’s leg artery and then thread it up to the heart. The catheter is then used to inject contrast dye that temporarily fills the coronary arteries allowing x-ray visualization of the inner diameter of the artery. This allows doctors to detect plaque build up, then plan and execute, if needed, the insertion of a coronary stent to open a blocked artery and allow normal blood flow. X-rays are generated below the patient and 2D shadow-like images of coronary arteries are created by a detector above the patient. These shadow images have been the standard method of presenting coronary angiographic images for over 50 years.

In the new study, researchers compared these standard 2D images to automatically generated, computer reconstructed 3D images of 23 patients’ coronary artery systems. To generate realistic 3D images, the detector was rapidly rotated around the patient during the injection of contrast dye, a technique called rotational angiography.

“This is the first in-human use,” Carroll said about the feasibility study.

“The next step is to test it in multiple centres around the world. In addition, we’ll formally test it to see the impact on clinical care. The bottom line is that this is very exciting technology that holds great promise,” Carroll added. The study appears in Circulation: Cardiovascular Interventions, an American Heart Association journal.