Researchers, in collaboration with cardiologists at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, have tested a new ultrasound technology called vector flow imaging for the first time on pediatric patients to create detailed images of the internal structure and blood flow of the babies’ hearts. The images can be still or moving and can be taken from any angle.
“Vector flow imaging technology is not yet possible in adults, but we have demonstrated that it is feasible in pediatric patients,” notes Morten Jensen, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Arkansas. “Our group demonstrated that this commercially available technology can be used as a bedside imaging method, providing advanced detail of blood flow patterns within cardiac chambers, across valves and in the great arteries.”
Jensen performed the study with a multidisciplinary team, including Dr. Hanna Jensen, clinical assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Arkansas; Thomas Collins, MD, clinical associate professor of pediatric cardiology at Stanford University School of Medicine; and researchers at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Their findings were published in Progress in Pediatric Cardiology.
The new imaging method is based on ultrasound and assesses the overall health of the heart, including valves and muscle contraction. Although ultrasound provides essential information about cardiac valve function in babies and small children, it has critical limitations. It cannot accurately obtain details of blood flow within the heart. This is due primarily to the inability to align the ultrasound beam with blood-flow direction.
Using a BK5000 Ultrasound machine with built-in vector flow imaging, the researchers first performed successful tests on two pigs, one with normal cardiac anatomy and one with congenital heart disease due to a narrow pulmonary valve and a hole within the heart. The researchers then compared the vector flow images to direct examination of the pigs’ hearts.
The researchers subsequently used the imaging system to take cardiac images of two three-month-old babies, one with a healthy, structurally normal heart and one with congenital heart disease because of an abnormally narrow aorta. With both patients, the technology enabled total transthoracic imaging of tissue and blood flow at a depth of 6.5 centimeters. Abnormal flow and detailed cardiac anomalies were clearly observed in the patient with congenital heart disease.
All procedures, both animal and human, were performed at Arkansas Children’s Hospital with assistance from Elijah Bolin, MD, pediatric cardiologist at UAMS. “We are still getting used to having this great, new information readily available, and we’re excited about the future in both research and direct clinical advancements,” Bolin says.