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Mayo Clinic, A.I. Company Study Covid-19 Heart Disease

Heart and major blood vessels


12 May 2020. A developer of software to diagnose heart disease from images with artificial intelligence is assessing Covid-19 infection patients for heart ailments with the Mayo Clinic. Financial aspects of the collaboration between Ultromics in Oxford, U.K. and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota were not disclosed.

Ultromics is a spin-off enterprise from the lab of cardiovascular medicine professor Paul Leeson at University of Oxford. Leeson’s group studies detecting heart disease with early indicators, particularly among younger patients. Among the lab’s interests is artificial intelligence for better diagnosing heart disease from echocardiogram images. Leeson’s work in this field led to the founding of Ultromics in 2017 with then doctoral candidate Ross Upton, now the company’s CEO. Leeson is Ultromics’ chief medical officer.

One of the company’s lead products is EchoGo Core, cloud-based software for analyzing echocardiograms that display real-time images of the heart region. Echocardiograms use ultrasound waves that bounce off the heart to provide a non-invasive method of inspecting a person’s heart working in real time, and can offer conclusive evidence of heart disease such as damage to heart valves. While widely employed by cardiologists, echocardiograms usually require highly trained specialists called sonographers to provide images with acceptable clarity for interpretation by physicians to diagnose heart disease.

EchoGo Core, says Ultromics, evaluates echocardiogram images and calculates several measures of heart function. The system uploads echocardiogram images to the cloud for analysis where the algorithms compute heart function indicators, and return results to the point of care within minutes. FDA cleared EchoGo Core for marketing in the U.S. in November 2019.

Mayo Clinic and Ultromics will use the company’s technology to help evaluate individuals with Covid-19 infections for heart disease. While Covid-19 infections are often associated with lung and breathing problems, reports from China, Italy, and other early hot spots indicate as many as one in five Covid-19 patients experience cardiac damage leading to heart failure and death, even among patients without respiratory problems, according to Kaiser Health News.

A team led by Mayo Clinic cardiologist and clinical researcher Patricia Pellikka and Ultromics chief technology officer Gary Woodward plan to enroll some 500 individuals at multiple locations testing positive for Covid-19 infections. The researchers will use EchoGo Core to assess echocardiogram images from participants for calculating ejection fraction and global longitudinal strain, two complementary measures of the heart’s ability to pump blood to the body.

The team also plans to look specifically for damage to the walls of small arteries in the heart, inflammation of heart muscle called myocarditis, and possible toxic side effects of Covid-19 treatments. Their analysis aims to provide a faster screening and diagnosis of heart disease, needing fewer specialists than current methods.

“By applying our technology to the evaluation of Covid associated echocardiograms,” says Upton in a company statement, “we can help understand the characteristics of cardiac involvement. We hope that by discovering a way to do this, patient management can be optimized. This is incredibly important where resources are scarce.”

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