Imaging method could improve heart arrhythmia treatment

Researchers at Columbia Engineering School have developed a method of non-invasively mapping the electrical activation of the heart.

Based on ultrasound imaging, the Electromechanical Wave Imaging (EWI) technique could enable doctors to treat heart arrhythmias more efficiently and precisely.

‘EWI can be incorporated into most ultrasound scanners already available in hospitals and clinics and can be modified at little or no cost to use our technology,’ said associate professor Elisa Konofagou from Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Using their EWI method, the Columbia Engineering researchers imaged the heart with ultrasound five times faster than standard echocardiography and mapped the local deformations of the heart with their images.

The team then looked at small, square, millimetre-sized regions of the heart and measured how much these regions were stretched or compressed every two thousandths of a second. This enabled the researchers to precisely identify at what time each region of the heart began to contract — the electromechanical activation — in all four chambers.

They then compared their maps with the electrical activation sequence and found they were closely correlated, both at the natural rhythm of the heart and when the heart was artificially paced.

‘Since ultrasound is so safe, portable and low cost, we can imagine a future when most physicians can carry a portable ultrasound scanner the size of an iPhone and easily get a map of the activation of the heart during a routine visit,’ said Konofagou.