Cardiothoracic Imaging

The Cardiovascular Imaging Section utilizes the latest CT, MR, and image processing technology to provide non-invasive imaging of the cardiovascular system. The section was the first dedicated CVI section and the first to perform coronary CT in the Philadelphia area. The section continues to practice at the cutting edge by using the latest technology, such as the first dual x-ray source CT scanner, the latest generation of 1.5 and 3TMR systems, and advanced image processing systems including a virtual reality system for medical image evaluation.

“When patients come to Penn, they can be assured that our team of radiologists and cardiologists are armed with the scientific expertise and clinical knowledge which will result in the best use of this new dual energy technology for excellent cardiovascular diagnosis and care,” said Penn Chair of Radiology Nick Bryan, MD, PhD.

Noninvasive imaging uses state-of-the-art technology and provides a rapid, accurate and pain free method to accurately diagnose conditions without the risks associated with more invasive procedures such as cardiac catheterization or catheter angiography. These techniques include cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and angiography (MRA) as well as cardiac computed tomography (CT) and angiography (CTA).

Better Technology, Better Diagnosis
For patients experiencing chest pain, new computed tomography (CT) imaging technology is helping doctors provide a faster and more accurate diagnosis of the source of their discomfort. Penn physicians are using this dual energy source multi-slice CT to produce three-dimensional, detailed images of the heart.

This ground-breaking system uses two X-ray energy sources to produce images of the heart. The X-ray sources can be set at different energy levels to produce two different images from a single scan. Because the body's tissues and fluids appear differently when the energy is increased or decreased, radiologists are able to compare these two images to better analyze and differentiate visual details. This results in a more exact diagnosis.

3D Heart Imaging

Examples of a reconstructed 3-D image of a normal heart and coronary arteries from a 64-slice CT scan. The speed and resolution of 64 slice CT scanners allows visualization of coronary artery blockages during a single breath hold, without the need for an invasive procedure.

“We can use these images to figure out the cause when patients are complaining of chest pain. Specifically, we may be able to characterize different types of atherosclerotic plaque, including whether a patient has any of the type more likely to rupture and cause a heart attack,” said Harold Litt, MD, PhD, chief of cardiovascular imaging in radiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, in explaining the practical application of dual energy source technology.

“This new technology provides us with faster, sharper images of the heart, helping doctors better diagnose potential blockages, which could lead to heart attacks. Specifically, it allows us to take a picture of the heart twice as fast as the old 64-slice CT technology – at 83 milliseconds versus the old 165 milliseconds – with twice the imaging power. Since the heart is constantly beating and moving, the ability to ‘freeze' that motion is essential to capture high quality images of the coronary arteries,” said Dr. Litt.

Cardiac and Vascular Examinations
We also offer clinical cardiac examinations for noninvasive assessment of the heart and coronary arteries including coronary angiography and evaluation of myocardial perfusion, viability, contractility and heart valve function. We regularly perform cardiac exams to assess for anomalous pulmonary venous drainage, right ventricular dysplasia, constrictive pericarditis and aberrant or anomalous coronary arteries. We also assess pulmonary venous anatomy in patient's undergoing RF ablation.

Furthermore, we offer clinical vascular examinations for noninvasive evaluation of individuals with a wide range of vascular disorders. We regularly perform examinations to assess the thoracic and abdominal aorta in persons with aneurysms or dissection. Many of these patients have connective tissue disorders such as Marfan and Ehlers-Danlos syndromes. We also have extensive experience evaluating individuals with claudication and peripheral vascular disease as well as cases of secondary hypertension related to renal artery stenosis.