PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — With so many heart tests available, from EKGs to stress tests and nuclear studies and echocardiograms to heart MRIs, is there a smarter way to figure who needs which test?

Researchers at West Virginia University are looking into that with an investigational technique called magnetocardiography.

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While the test is done with magnets, it is not an MRI machine — which flips electrons with a magnet, and records energy as the electrons return to their regular state.

This test picks up the magnetic field of the heart’s own electrical signals.

The doctors are hoping machine learning can analyze these signals and pick up on subtle clues to predict who might have a heart attack, who will develop an abnormal heartbeat pattern, and who has abnormal muscle function.

In the study, funded by the imaging company, they are evaluating patients who get referred for chest pain, but are stable.

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“They are brought in, and within a few minutes, after some questionnaires and some consents are signed, they go through this very rapid evaluation. They walk in, and within a minute, the test is done, and they come out,” explains WVU Heart and Vascular Institute cardiologist Dr. Partho Sengupta.

The researchers follow the patients for six months to see if they have any additional cardiac evaluations, or heart attacks, or heart-related hospital stays. This will be correlated with the signals from the new type of imaging.

“The hypothesis is there, is that it is non-inferior to the stress test,” says Dr. Sengupta. “Trying to make medicine more cost effective, eventually.”

He hopes this experimental test will eventually be useful and practical, perhaps as a screening tool.

“For better preventative measures, so we don’t let them develop any symptoms or acute events,” he said. “That’s much better than taking care of the disease once it has happened. That’s more expensive.”

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The study at WVU has just started enrolling patients. The doctors would like to have 400 people take part over the next year. They will then be followed for six months afterwards. So the results, at the earliest, would come in 2021.

Dr. Maria Simbra