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The Truth About Exercise, Caterpillars, and Imaging

February 10, 2020 | Kevin Wininger, RT(R)

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Part 2: Innovations in Heart Disease Diagnosis and Treatment

Last week I discussed the importance of prevention when it comes to heart disease. We mentioned exercise and diet as some of the best ways to care for your heart. Prevention is the single best thing you can do for your heart.

However, if you do find yourself dealing with heart disease, there have been many recent innovations in the diagnosis and treatment of heart conditions.

Heart Care and Innovative Treatments

Heart care in the near future includes creatively-designed stents for treating heart attacks. Stents are medical devices that permit the flow of blood through a clogged blood vessel. For the coronary arteries, the sizes of stents are about the size of a spring you’ll find in a clickable writing pen. And although numerous examples of creative designs exist, I’m intrigued by laser-etching methods that make the inside of a stent appear like the inner lining of an artery. I’m also interested, as incredible as it may seem, in stents with the flexibility of a caterpillar. Stents that have the look and feel of the lining of coronary arteries can help your body adjust more quickly to their placement. The purpose and advantage of a “caterpillar stent” is that it moves in sync with the continuous motion of the heart like a caterpillar.

For someone who’s been diagnosed with heart failure, innovative treatments include soft, flexible robotic sleeves that wrap around the heart to gently assist the heart’s very own pumping action. Furthermore, pacemakers are becoming noticeably better at coordinating your heart’s electrical activities.

Another area receiving a lot of attention is the regeneration of heart tissue. In these cases, adult stem cells – not embryonic stem cells – are placed on an underlying mesh that’s compatible with the body’s immune system in order to cultivate and grow the highly-specialized muscle cells of the heart. And regeneration of heart tissue is an important thing since a moderate-to-severe heart attack typically damages a billion heart cells. In fact, researchers have also had success at turning cells from skeletal muscle into useful heart muscle. And what’s really fascinating is that by using advanced techniques in magnetic resonance imaging (also known as MRI), we can now see how well the strands of newly-generated tissue tie-in and work with native heart tissue. However, as of today, perhaps the most incredible innovation in heart care happened last year when researchers in Israel successfully took the first steps in producing a viable 3D-printed heart.

Heart Tests and Imaging

Heart tests and diagnostic imaging have come a long way. From the different methods for stress testing to ultrasound tests (also known as echo cardiac tests) to the specialized-imaging studies produced in nuclear medicine to the special tests performed with computed tomography (also known as CT scans or CAT scans), your doctors have a wide range of options to choose from.

At Fisher-Titus Heart & Vascular, in addition to offering cardiac rehabilitation, we offer exercise and nuclear medicine stress testing, ultrasound scans of your heart, and real-time, image-guided assessments (and treatments) of your coronary arteries in our cardiac cath lab. The future is very bright in cardiovascular care.

In the January/February 2020 issue of Radiologic Technology, Kevin Wininger, an exercise physiologist and radiology technologist with Fisher-Titus Heart & Vascular, wrote about the innovative treatments that researchers are pioneering in heart care. He works in Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and the Pacemaker / ICD Clinic. For a closer look at Kevin’s article, “Biomimicry and Bioengineering in Cardiovascular Care,” visit: www.radiologictechnology.org. Visit fishertitus.org/heart for more information about our Heart & Vascular services.