Red plastic heart on the background of the electrocardiogram ECG

NHS Scotland uses AI to guide heart operations

Image credit: Irina Krolevetc |

Cardiologists are carrying out percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) operations guided by machine-learning software in a first for Scottish healthcare.

During PCI operations, tiny stents are placed in coronary arteries to keep them open and maintain blood flow towards the heart. This non-surgical procedure helps patients with coronary artery disease whose arteries have been narrowed by plaque build-up.

Now, cardiologists at NHS Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, have become the first in Scotland to perform the procedure with guidance from AI technology. The clinicians carried out planned PCIs using Ultreon 1.0 software, which combines the imaging technique Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) and computer vision, gaining a comprehensive and accurate view inside arteries and helping them determine the best decisions.

The software speeds up the operation, using infrared lasers and AI to measure how much of the artery is calcified and the size of stent required. This helps ensure stents are more accurately fitted, leading to improved long-term health for patients.

Consultant interventional cardiologist Dr Stuart Watkins said: “As people get older, they can develop hardening of the heart arteries due to calcification. This makes treating the arteries difficult for cardiologists because calcium is very hard and it can limit the expansion of our stents.

“It’s very important to identify calcification in the heart arteries, which isn’t always apparent from doing a basic coronary angiogram. OCT gives us extremely detailed pictures within the arteries so that we can pick up calcification and determine the best treatment strategy before we put stents in.

“Ultreon helps us quickly measure how much of the artery is diseased and what size of stent you have to put in, without taking too much time to do it.”

One of the first patients treated with the new technology at the hospital was 85-year-old Chris Stevenson, a retired mechanical engineer. After suffering from heart problems from age 50, his condition worsened more recently and he needed four stents fitted. Stevenson remained awake for the three-hour procedure, which used the AI guidance tool. He hopes the operation will help him be more active and expressed his gratitude to the clinicians who performed the operation.

Stevenson said: “I know how hard the specialists worked for me, as well as all the staff who booked me in and cared for me on the ward. I can’t praise them highly enough, they were amazing.”

Golden Jubilee Hospital’s medical director Dr Mark MacGregor said the technology is now on offer to patients across Scotland and provides the “potential for significantly improved long-term outcomes”.

He added: “This new technology is an excellent advancement in treating coronary heart disease”.

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