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Method provides new tool for diagnosing heart disease

Cardiac elastogram taken during the heartbeat of a patient with
                        coronary heart disease

An echocardiogram taken during one complete cardiac cycle, or heartbeat, of a patient with coronary heart disease; it shows the heart ventricle as blood flows in (relaxation) and out (contraction).

Cardiac elastogram taken during the heartbeat of a patient with
                        coronary heart disease

A cardiac elastogram taken during the heartbeat of a patient with coronary heart disease; it shows the regions of the heart that contract (red) and relax (blue). (Animation courtesy Tomy Varghese)

A quick and painless technique recently developed by UW-Madison researchers could help clinicians identify signs of coronary heart disease (CHD), a condition that claims the lives of 2,000 Americans every day.

Techniques now used to examine the heart—electrocardiograms, angiograms and echocardiograms—all provide valuable information, but do not present the whole picture of heart health, says Tomy Varghese, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering and medical physics. To add a new perspective, Varghese, and his colleagues at the UW Medical School developed a technique that enables cardiologists to see what parts of the heart contract as this muscle pumps blood.

The technique, called cardiac elastography creates real-time, two-dimensional images of muscle strain as the heart moves blood through its chambers to the rest of the body.

“Coronary artery disease typically attacks the heart by damaging regions of the heart,” says Peter Rahko, a cardiovascular medicine professor and director of the Adult Echocardiography Laboratory, who contributed to the new cardiac elastography technique.

Cardiac elastography may become a totally new and non-invasive way of screening for CHD in its earliest stages, before it causes heart attacks, severe heart vessel blockages or heart failure, says Christian Breburda, assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine at the UW Medical School and the primary clinical collaborator on the new development. “It may contribute to the prevention of serious complications by identifying patients at risk in the future,” he says.

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation currently holds a patent on this method.

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4/21/2003