MUNICH, Germany — A significant trend in ultrasound imaging demonstrated at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) congress was the increased processing power for data acquired by re-engineered transducers.

In an ESC session entitled "Cardiac Imaging In 2020," Professor Thomas Marwick of the University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia) said "Moore's Law is having its effect in ultrasound," referring to the tendency of computing power to increase exponentially every two years.

According to Marwick, studies of hand-held ultrasound use show that thanks to the intelligence packed inside these miniaturized units even after limited training novice readers approach closely the expert groups for specificity, sensitivity and accuracy in diagnosis.

"Now decision support capabilities include stress data," he said, referring to the color coding for 2-D echocardiography of stress performance that further facilitates use by less-than-expert readers.

Looking ahead 10 years to the horizons in ultrasound, Marwick predicted that bedside applications of ultrasound would increase, that practice guidelines will emerge for this new diagnostic capability, and that these enhanced technologies will drive wider applications.

"Contrast agents are going to facilitate more precise diagnosis," he said, "and there is the potential for delivering drugs and genes that will be activated by targeted ultrasound to treat a highly specific, even highly personal condition."

Population changes of obesity and diabetes favor echocardiography, he said as well as the coming pandemic of heart failures in aging populations.

Health economics also will push the adoption of ultrasound are the dominant diagnostic modality, Marwick said.

"The increase in healthcare costs are not being driven by new and expensive medical procedures but a steady stream of imaging charges for investigations," he said.

The demand for diagnostics, such as the strong trend toward earlier identification heart disease, combined with a societal pressure to reduce costs, is going to favor echocardiography as a rational modality for initial exploration, Marwick noted.

—John Brosky, European Editor