The pictures are incredibly sharp and lifelike �€and show a human heart in all its complicated detail. Yet the process is faster than getting a studio photo.

West Virginia University Hospitalsnew 64-slice CT scanner greatly enhances the diagnosis and characterization of diseases of the cardiovascular system, especially coronary artery disease.

The reduced scan timesusually five to 13 secondsmake the process easier for patients. The machine takes up to 200 pictures per second, which are then processed in a computer to generate 3-D images that can be viewed from any angle.

When a patient with chest pain is scanned, the images help radiologists and cardiologists determine if theres a problem with the heart. The information can help get patients with heart problems the care they need more quickly. Just as important, doctors say, it helps avoid invasive tests for patients with healthy hearts.

�€?Before this test, even the best external scans often did not provide enough information for an accurate diagnosis,�€? said WVU cardiologist Anthony Morise, M.D.”A significant number of patients who now are sent for heart catheterization can undergo a cardiac CT first, and possibly avoid a catheterization, if the results do not indicate significant coronary artery disease.  On the basis of the test result, many will either receive the treatment they need or look for some other cause of their symptoms.”

The Toshiba scanner provides greater detail than previously available in conventional 8, 16 or 32-slice CT scanners. The 3-D views of the heart and the coronary arteries show not only narrowed areas of the blood vessels but also early disease in the vessel walls.

The device, one of only a few in the region, can also aid in the diagnosis of aneurysms, circulation problems, and diseases of the lungs, liver, and other internal organs.

The 3-D images are also very useful for surgical planning, according to WVU radiologist Robert Tallaksen, M.D. �€?The information we provide for the surgeons can help them determine the correct approach to repairing a heart or circulatory problem, whether the patient needs peripheral angioplasty, stenting, arterial bypass, or aortic aneurysm repair.�€?

The scans are expensive and so far, most insurance companies have been reluctant to approve payment. But they are cheaper than the invasive tests now standard for patients with heart problems.