Cardiovascular CT Poised to Take Imaging Center Stage


New technologies that solve some old problems could make cardiovascular CT the go-to imaging tool to assess both anatomy and function.

Cardiovascular CT imaging has been a welcome tool in patient assessment due to its noninvasive nature, ease, and quickness. Likewise, cardiovascular CT angiography (CCTA) has provided noninvasive information about vessel stenoses, with lower costs and radiation exposure compared with invasive angiography.

Perhaps the biggest criticism about cardiovascular CT is that, while it provides very good anatomic detail, functional information – a crucial piece to the overall picture – is not discernable.

"Historically, coronary CT angiography has been an extremely anatomic method for documenting the severity of coronary artery stenoses or luminal compromise," said Dr. James K. Min, immediate past president of SCCT. This has left CTA open to the criticism that the more useful evaluation of coronary artery disease is not only to document high-grade stenoses – as with coronary CT angiography – but also to determine the physiologic significance of those stenoses.

However, at this year’s meeting of the Society of Cardiovascular Computed Tomography in Baltimore, "we saw the emergence of two robust methods for physiologic assessment of coronary disease by cardiac CT," he said. These are fractional flow reserve CT and CT-based myocardial perfusion imaging.

Evidence regarding these methods was then bolstered at the annual congress of the European Society of Cardiology in Munich, with the presentation of two imaging trials. The DeFACTO study, comparing CT-based FFR with FFR obtained by conventional angiography, did not show diagnostic superiority of CT-based FFR over angiography, but it did enhance diagnoses compared with CT without FFR. The CORE320 trial, assessing the diagnostic accuracy CT-based myocardial perfusion imaging in patients with suspected coronary artery disease, showed that CT-based myocardial perfusion imaging significantly increased the diagnostic accuracy of CTA alone to delineate flow-limiting disease.

Images courtesy Dr. James P. Earls

The single-energy CT image on the left shows calcium "blooming," which overestimates the size of calcium plaque. Dual-energy CT (right) reduces the bloom effect.

Cardiovascular CT also has been hamstrung by a number of technical limitations. Calcium blooming artifacts make it difficult to get an accurate measurement of calcium lesion components and lumen size and motion artifacts also limit the clarity of CT images, leaving some vessels simply unreadable.

Two new technological advances – dual-energy CT and intelligent motion correction using snapshot freeze – are already changing practice, according to leaders at this year’s annual meeting of the SCCT.


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