Volta Medical, a promising, young, med-tech company based in Marseille, France, has developed the first artificial intelligence (AI) software to guide cardiologists during heart surgeries to treat atrial fibrillation (AF) and the first AI software to guide cardiac surgeons in the operating room for any heart surgery.

In January 2017, the co-founders published their first article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) that had garnered great interest in the field.

AIFib is an artificial intelligence software developed to guide doctors through the complex medical procedure intended to treat atrial fibrillation, from the detection of electrical foci, which triggeratrial fibrillation, to the surgery itself. AIFib is based on more than 10 years of intense research and development by the co-founders, alongside a team of engineers led by Théophile Mohr Durdez, who developed the software and runs the company.

“Traditional software is not powerful enough to analyze data with that level of complexity. Our technology draws on a type of artificial intelligence designed to understand such complexity in a way that outperforms the human brain’s capacity. This software was first ‘educated,’ much like a student, from an extremely large database and subsequently improved by gaining experience, much like a surgeon. The medical innovation of AIFib facilitates the procedure as well as the surgeon’s effectiveness to treat atrial fibrillation. This technology will make it possible to treat the most complex and severely affected patients in all equipped medical institution, which up until now could only be done in a limited number of expert centers,” said the three co-founders, Dr. Julien Seitz,Dr. Clément Bars and Dr. Jérôme Kalifa (based in the United States).

Volta’s intelligent software, AIFib, outperforms 28 expert cardiologists (including its creators):  At the 2018 Heart Rhythm Society Conference, in Boston from May 9 to 12, Dr. Kalifa presented the results of a test performed by 28 expert cardiologists and Volta’s software, which consisted ofanalyzing intracardiac electrical signals during the surgical ablation of atrial fibrillation. AIFib showed spectacular results. The performance of the software indeed surpassed those recorded a few months earlier by a panel of 28 cardiologists, including AIFib’s creators! Studies are underway to confirm this incredibly promising preliminary data.

Volta Medical’s innovative approach: efficiency and simplicity:  To identify electrical foci, the root cause of fibrillation, cardiologists previously had to manipulate probes inside the heart in order to identify the electrical signals and detect them visually. The technique is hard to master, however, and surgeons have to analyze very complex sets of intracardiac electrical signals. Volta Medical had the idea to model and automate this technique as a wayto make it accessible to a large number of surgeons.

“Through our daily practice of Cardiac Electrophysiology, which is a very complex discipline, we realized that there is a strong global demand for a simplified, automated medical procedure to treat atrial fibrillation. Over the past 5 years, after multiple attempts and failures, we have finally managed to effectively model and automate this complex procedure within an artificial intelligence software. AIFib aims to effectively and easily detect the electrical foci causing fibrillation, which are very difficult to identify by the human eye. The paradox is that our extremely complex software is very user friendly in the end. This is, in fact, one of our objectives: to simplify what is complex,” the co-founders added.

Atrial fibrillation (AF): AF manifests itself by an anarchic, rapid and irregular heart rate. These chaotic heartbeats prevent the heart from properly pumping blood. The root cause is an “electrical storm” in the atriadisrupting all synchronized activities to a point that the mechanical contraction of the atria no longer occurs. The heart loses its strength. The ventricle may momentarily compensate for this loss, but in the long run, the exhaustion of its contractile forces can lead to heart failure. Atrial fibrillation can cause a blood clot in the heart, which may migrate into the brain arteries and cause a stroke.

Some facts about atrial fibrillation (sources: Medscape and Medical Realities)- This is the world’s most common heart arrhythmia and its prevalence increases with age, affecting 1 in 25 adults over 60 and 1 in 10 over 80.

– There are 7 million patients in the U.S., 11 million in Europe and 750,000 in France (the number of patients is expected to double within the next 30 years). A 55-year-old person has a 1 in 4 chance of developing AF during his lifetime (24.8% of men and 22.9% of women). It is therefore a true “epidemic.”

– AF is a severe disease that decreases life expectancy. It increases the risk of stroke, stroke recurrence and post-stroke mortality. AF is responsible for 1 in 6 strokes. The overall prevalence of AF is 5.5% of the population aged 55 and up, and it increases with age (10% at 80 and up).

– This is a major public health issue whose treatment costs 3000 euros per year and per patient in France (2.5 billion euros per year in France, with hospitalization accounting for half the costs).

– AF is also associated with excess mortality unrelated to strokes. In the Copenhagen City Heart Study, AF was the most powerful independent marker of cardiovascular mortality.