Your heart in high definition

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Doctors at St. Paul’s Hospital have a powerful new tool for diagnosing heart disease: a powerful new computed tomography (CT) scanner that is bringing early diagnosis of cardiac disease to a whole new level.

The only organization in Western Canada with this leading-edge technology, St. Paul’s Hospital is the first in Canada to scan patients with the world’s first high-definition CT scanner. The $2.2 million scanner delivers unprecedented high-quality diagnostic images while using significantly less radiation than previous technology.

“We can now look at the coronary arteries using this non-invasive technology and make faster, more accurate diagnoses of heart disease,” says Dr. Brett Heilbron, a cardiologist with the Providence Heart and Lung Institute at St. Paul’s Hospital. “This technology also provides a valuable alternative to the traditional angiogram for some patients, because it is less invasive, safer, and less expensive.”

Requiring a stay of several hours in hospital, an angiogram involves having a catheter inserted through an artery (usually in the groin) into the coronary arteries. The catheter is used to inject a contrast agent or dye into the coronary artery so that blood flowing inside the vessels becomes visible to x-rays. While an angiogram remains a vital procedure for many patients, the high definition capability of the new scanner enables doctors to diagnose or rule-out coronary artery disease in lower-risk patients, or those with inconclusive test results.

The new scanner – GE Healthcare’s Discovery CT750 HD – is a radical change for the industry where no longer do higher-quality images come with higher radiation dose. With up to half the radiation for body scans, and up to 83 per cent less radiation for cardiac scans, the technology dramatically reduces exposure for patients.

Dr. Heilbron and Dr. Jonathon Leipsic, a radiologist at St. Paul’s Hospital, co-direct the Heart and Lung Institute’s Advanced Cardiac Imaging Program – a unique collaboration between radiology and cardiology. With specialized training in cardiac imaging, Drs. Leipsic and Heilbron are experts in a relatively new field. Both are among a small group of Canadian doctors with Level 3 Certification in Cardiovascular Computed Tomography – currently the highest achievable level in North America.

Their leadership and expertise, combined with the hospital’s longstanding reputation for cardiac excellence and research, made St. Paul’s Hospital an ideal choice as a major research site for the new scanner. This designation means that the Heart and Lung Institute at St. Paul’s Hospital is involved in international research focusing on areas such as the potential role of CT imaging in measuring the narrowing of the coronary arteries, including for patients with coronary stents.

“This is a very exciting step forward for the Providence Heart and Lung Institute,” says Dr. Leipsic. “Being selected as a research site affords us the opportunity for international multi-centered research collaborations and places St. Paul’s Hospital at the forefront of noninvasive coronary imaging – all the while maintaining and enhancing our commitment to low radiation dose imaging strategies.”

The new scanner will not only benefit cardiac patients, but will also be used to help diagnose diseases throughout the body, including early stroke detection. With the ability to differentiate between different types of soft tissue, the scanner allows more accurate diagnoses of lesions, making it useful in diagnosing diseases of the lung, liver, kidney and other organs. The purchase of the CT scanner was made possible by the ongoing fundraising efforts of the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation.