Ulster Hospital’s new scanner makes cardiac diagnosis in just a heartbeat

Cardiac patient Keith Miller with Dr Patrick Donnelly, consultant cardiologist, and radiographer Sarah Smythe with the new CT heart scanner
Cardiac patient Keith Miller with Dr Patrick Donnelly, consultant cardiologist, and radiographer Sarah Smythe with the new CT heart scanner

The Ulster Hospital has said its newly installed heart scanner “changes the rules” allowing patients suffering chest pain to be assessed much more quickly.

The dedicated CT heart scanner – the world’s first according to the hospital – can image the heart in less than a single heartbeat, allowing the cardiologist to definitively diagnose, or rule out, heart disease.

The Ulster says this will replace the often lengthy patient journey of visits to the chest pain clinic, treadmill tests and invasive angiograms where dye is pumped through the patient’s arteries.

The hospital has a history of pioneering CT scanning for cardiac investigations but previously these have been done using the multi-purpose CT scanner which cuts the heart into slices – on a virtual basis – and images each one. However, because this took place over multiple heart beats, it was not a definitive picture.

The new bespoke scanner – the CardioGraphe – gives a binary diagnosis ‘yes or no’ result, meaning that patients identified with serious cardiac problems can be sent for surgery or stenting immediately while those with potential to suffer a heart attack in the long term can be placed on a preventative pathway.

Consultant cardiologist Dr Patrick Donnelly said: “This scanner changes the rules and allows us to engage with the patients who need us most. The large number of people presenting with chest pain far outweighs our capacity.

“The scanner removes diagnostic uncertainty and will allow us to evaluate patients quickly and in greater detail.

“In turn, this will free up resources for prevention pathways, with data indicating around 30% of heart attacks could be avoided.

“At the Ulster Hospital, we want to shift towards prevention and maintaining heart health rather than managing heart disease, and the development of this scanner is a major milestone along this path.

“It was wonderful that GE Healthcare placed their confidence in us to allow this collaboration.

“CT is so fundamental to what we do, and our patients will now have equity of access to technology.”

CardioGraphe, the world’s first dedicated cardiovascular computer tomography (CT) system, has been developed by Dublin-based GE Healthcare and Arineta Ltd of Israel, in collaboration with the Ulster Hospital.

It creates a high quality 3D image of the coronaries, valves, chambers and myocardium in one heartbeat and can also perform CT angiography studies beyond the heart, including the aorta and carotids.