Artificial intelligence could be saving lives within a year by making it possible to identify people at high risk of a heart attack at least five years before it strikes, scientists claim.
Those at high risk could then take steps to minimise the danger such as lowering weight, blood pressure and cholesterol.
Researchers used machine learning to develop a test that can identify inflammation and scarring in the lining blood vessels that supply the heart – a key red flag for a heart attack.
They plan to introduce the technology to some health centres in the next 12 months and hope it will be routinely offered on the NHS in the next two years.
Professor Charalambos Antoniades, from the University of Oxford, said: “We genuinely believe this technology could be saving lives within the next year.
“By harnessing the power of AI, we’ve developed a fingerprint to find ‘bad’ characteristics around people’s arteries. This has huge potential to detect the early signs of disease and to be able to take all preventative steps before a heart attack strikes, ultimately saving lives.”
At the moment when someone goes to hospital with chest pain, they are typically given a coronary artery scan known as a CCTA.
If there is no significant narrowing of the artery people are sent home, yet some of them will still have a heart attack at some point in the future. Prof Antoniades wants his technology to be incorporated alongside CCTA scans. There are currently no methods used routinely by doctors that can spot all of the underlying red flags for a future heart attack.
Every five minutes, someone is admitted to a UK hospital due to a heart attack. Professor Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said the new research was therefore a “significant advance”.
The foundation funded the research along with the National Institute for Health Research.
Prof Avkiran said: “Such AI-based technology to predict an impending heart attack with greater precision could represent a big step forward in personalised care for people with suspected coronary artery disease.
“This research is a powerful example of how innovative use of machine learning technology has the potential to revolutionise how we identify people at risk of a heart attack and prevent them from happening.”
The findings are being presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Paris and published in the European Heart Journal.
The researchers compared the CCTA scans of people who went on to have a heart attack or cardiovascular death within five years with those who did not to understand the changes in the blood vessels which indicate that someone is at higher risk of a heart attack.