New AI Tool to be Used by NHS Quickly Detects Heart Disease

The US company behind the cutting-edge technology is optimistic for UK launch by mid-2020 after it gets clearance. 

Using artificial intelligence (AI) the technology is able to virtually model a patient’s heart and blood vessels from CT scans on an iPad or iPhone. The tool, which is called Planner, can then simulate blood flow and model potential blockages so clinicians are able to draw up early treatments for coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease in the UK.

The company behind the tech is $1.5 billion US medtech startup, Heartflow. It gained US Food and Drug Administration approval earlier this month. Heartflow expects to receive UK clearance for its tech by the end of the year, and hopes to launch Planner by mid-2020.

Planner could be a key tool in the early detection and tackling of coronary heart disease in the UK, which accounts for more than a quarter of deaths and impacts 7.4 million people.

Professor Charles Taylor, founder and chief technology officer at Heartflow, said the focus of Planner is to ensure prediction and offer an alternative way to “help cardiologists determine whether the disease in a patient’s arteries was putting them at risk.”

“The key is to have better information prior to walking into a very high cost procedural room where the patient is on the table and you have wires in their coronary arteries,” Taylor said. “The Planner is moving from diagnosis to prediction in therapy planning.”

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To diagnose heart disease doctors often have to perform invasive procedures involving catheters and x-rays, however, Taylor endeavoured to prove that “most patients” do not need require such actions as the necessary information can be gathered “non-invasively”.

“I realised that if we could build a computer model of somebody’s arteries, then we can basically test out different therapies and treatments on the computer,” he said.

At present, the company has a prototype version being used by some UK hospitals, which is limited to imaging of the heart and vessels. The new tool will enable doctors to use that data to plan ahead and model treatments such as stent placements virtually.

Taylor said he believes that once the technology has been approved, it will help cut costs for the NHS. “It’s not cost savings coming at the expense of the patient because they’re getting presumably a better treatment without having to go through another invasive procedure,” he said.

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