Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common heart arrhythmias that people experience, affecting up to six million people in the U.S. each year. It happens when the heart beats irregularly, meaning it could beat too fast, to slow, or at an irregular rhythm. Left untreated, atrial fibrillation can lead to a range of complications, such as heart disease. One of the more serious complications includes stroke, which can be life threatening.
Finding ways to prevent or lower the risk of stroke in atrial fibrillation is of the utmost importance. Various medications exist to help manage the risk of stroke and clots, and ablation is often used as a way to correct irregular heartbeats.
A research team at Case Western Reserve University have developed a new approach to reducing the risk of stroke and blood clots in atrial fibrillation patients, one that they consider to be a “first”: heart catheterization of patients undergoing MRI scans, with robotic assistance. Their new approach is funded by a $3.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with a goal of making the procedure more accessible to atrial fibrillation patients.
The new approach takes a pseudo-virtual reality approach to performing catheterization. Termed “mixed-reality,” the approach allows for a blending of real-world and digital objects and spaces, allowing physicians to leverage the benefits of technology into real-world situations. This mixed-reality approach would be used to perform a left atrial appendage occlusion procession, which is often used for stroke prevention and management in people with atrial fibrillation. Mixed-reality offers a hyper-precise way of performing the procedure, and has becoming increasingly common and central in the healthcare industry.
Use the combination of mixed-reality and MRI technology, researchers overcome a significant hurdle to the effective execution of the left atrial appendage occlusion procedure, which is normally done “manually” with often unclear X-ray images. This makes it more challenging to safely and effectively position an implant in the heart to prevent strokes during an occlusion procedure. A physician can now locate exactly where the implant should go and, with robotic assistance, actually perform the procedure.
Researchers hope their new approach can offer safer, more effective options for atrial fibrillation treatment.