Rutgers med school researchers report breakthrough in ultrasound imaging technique for early detection of heart disease

Researchers at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital have reported a new breakthrough in ultrasonic imaging methods that can detect microscopic changes in heart structure and function.

The procedure, which uses miniaturized ultrasound devices that can be carried in the pocket, may be useful for screening early heart disease.

Dr. Partho Sengupta and Dr. Naveena Yanamala revealed how they used artificial intelligence modeling techniques to compile and analyze pixel-based patterns in echocardiogram images of humans to develop expert-level interpretation of cardiac conditions that lead to heart failure. They then used a mouse model of heart failure and discovered that these patterns arise from microscopic changes in heart muscle geometry.

Their findings were published in the December 2022 edition of the Journals of the American College of Cardiology.

Through their analysis, the researchers were able to establish new biological markers, or indicators, for cardiovascular disease, that can help clinicians detect cardiac issues earlier and give them important information they need to plan the appropriate treatment.

“By establishing and analyzing patterns of pixels obtained from the sample echocardiogram images, we were able to predict presence of heart conditions that can cause heart failure,” Sengupta said. “Identifying changes in the heart muscle or cardiovascular function earlier can lead to more proactive interventions and the prevention of serious complications.”

According to Sengupta, this biomarker can be applied to any current cardiac ultrasound device, including advanced, miniature handheld point-of-care ultrasound technology. Essentially, the data is like obtaining an ultrasonic biopsy of the heart tissue, he said.

“This has the potential to give more people access to in-depth, expert analysis in a broad range of settings, leading to faster intervention and prevention of serious cardiac disease,” he said.

Sengupta is the Henry Rutgers Professor of Cardiology and chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Disease and Hypertension at RWJMS, and chief of cardiology at RWJUH, and is a member of the Combined Medical Group of RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Health.

Yanamala is director of artificial intelligence and data science in the Division of Cardiovascular Disease and Hypertension, Rutgers RWJMS, and the director of RWJUH’s Innovation Center.

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Earlier this year, RWJUH established the Center for Innovation. The Center for Innovation is a partnership between RWJUH and RWJMS to bring together clinicians, researchers and private industry to invent and develop new technologies that address both complex and common health care issues. The ultimate goal is to develop innovative clinical trials that yield medical breakthroughs to improve preventive care and health outcomes for patients.

Sengupta said this research aligns perfectly with the center’s mission, adding that Rutgers RWJMS and RWJUH currently have a National Science Foundation research grant to create and sustain an “innovation pipeline” leading to more discoveries like this.

“Our goal is to make New Jersey a cornerstone and model for the early detection of cardiovascular disease,” Sengupta said.