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Logo showing schematic of heart and coronavirus.

A new study by RDM researchers based in the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Facility (CCRF) will harness artificial intelligence to establish how echocardiograms - the most widely used imaging test for the heart – were used during the COVID-19 pandemic surge. From the insights generated they aim to develop automated analysis tools and guidelines to ensure echocardiography services within the NHS are fully prepared for ongoing waves of COVID-19 and other future national health emergencies.

CLEAR-UK (COVID-19 Learning from Echocardiography and AI Research – UK) is led by Professor Paul Leeson, Cristiana Monteiro and Andrew Fletcher and has been funded by the Oxford COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Fund.

By studying how echo was used in real world practice during the pandemic surge we hope to develop novel tools and resilient cardiac imaging systems for future health emergencies in the NHS.
- Professor Paul Leeson

They are studying a sub-set of echocardiograms from patients with COVID-19 collected at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust as part of the HRA-approved project EchoVision. Research collaborations with investigators at the Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have been set up, alongside discussions with 15 other NHS Trusts, to build a dataset representative of the UK population.

As well as the widely documented respiratory problems of COVID-19, emerging evidence has suggested there could also be direct damage to the heart and that patients with underlying heart disease are at significantly increased risk of complications. Monitoring of cardiac function is therefore important and echocardiography is both safe and can be performed anywhere. This means scans can be performed at the hospital bedside as well as in the community clinic or care home. By investigating how echocardiography was used to assess patients in real world practice, and whether traditional or more novel biomarkers were useful to predict outcome, the investigators will establish the optimal use of echocardiography for patient management. Ultimately, the aim is to develop systems for remote automated analysis and reporting to maintain quality, and simplify delivery, of echocardiography within the NHS during future pandemics.