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Cury’s results reinforce those of an earlier, unrelated study (abstract), in which researchers at Duke University used the same techniques to successfully diagnose coronary artery disease in 100 patients.

The results are good news for patients. The MRI exam is short and painless. By using it to triage people who have chest pain but may not have the disease, physicians might save some patients from unnecessary invasive procedures. In cases where the heart disease is evident, MRI can help doctors decide what to do next – for instance, whether surgery to clear or bypass a blocked artery is necessary. After surgery, doctors can use MRI to monitor arteries for future blockages non-invasively.

Cury says that the 12 percent of cases misdiagnosed in his study are less than other noninvasive tests, and in some cases artifacts of the study’s design. He adds that MRI’s accuracy will increase as doctors learn to make better diagnoses from MRI images.

“Obviously 100 percent [accuracy] is ideal,” says Santos. “I think MRI is going to get us closer to that than our traditional methods.”

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