Claudio Capelli

By creating virtual models of patients’ hearts, Great Ormond Street Hospital clinician is enabling personalized care

Elly Yates-Roberts
30 October 2019

2 min read

Claudio Capelli, a biomedical engineer at University College London and Great Ormond Street Hospital, is part of a team using revolutionary digital modeling technology to transform the treatment of children suffering from rare congenital heart conditions.

Claudio Capelli walks down the stairs to the cardiac ward at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), clutching a virtual reality headset. He is about to show a 16-year-old boy a digital image of his own defective heart – a heart which the next day will undergo life-changing surgery.

“Every heart surgery is a delicate procedure,” the biomedical engineer said. “But working with hearts with such complex congenital conditions makes the whole procedure significantly more difficult.”

Capelli, a senior research associate in the cardiovascular and lung department at University College London (UCL), knew early in his career that he wanted to work on projects that would benefit his patients. His career in biomedical engineering is dedicated to creating the technology to help the hundreds of children and young adults who pass through the doors of GOSH every day.

The GOSH clinical team uses a virtual reality tool prior to surgery to review the patient’s heart within a realistic 3D model. (Image © Great Ormond Street Hospital / UCL)

“Many children at the hospital are born with extremely complex and rare congenital heart conditions and, as such, require personalized treatments,” Capelli said. “To provide this kind of care we have been working to create highly realistic virtual models of these hearts, which we can use to predict the best treatment.”


With funding provided by a grant from La Fondation Dassault Systèmes, the cardiovascular engineering team at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and UCL Institute of Cardiovascular Science has developed the 3D CARE project.

The project focuses on the design of a new virtual reality tool, developed by Endrit Pajaziti, which the clinical team can use prior to surgery to review the patient’s heart within a realistic 3D model. The app is used to enhance not only the education of medical students and young doctors, but also to improve communication with patients and their families. In the near future, the app also will allow a surgeon to simulate a complex cardiovascular procedure before entering the surgical theater in order to fully understand the challenges of a particular surgical intervention and to select the best tailored solution.

“Understanding the way a normal heart develops is difficult enough, but it is even more difficult to understand how a certain congenital heart disease develops,” Capelli said. “The 3D information from the virtual reality app really brings to light how a specific heart develops, and we can garner a better understanding of the complex condition of each patient.”

Additional development work will increase the technology’s potential.

“With development, surgeons will be able to make surgical ‘cuts’ on the model,” Capelli said. “It will enable users to start mimicking the overall surgical procedure [in virtual 3D] and will give surgeons a more realistic experience so that they can go into the surgery with more confidence.”

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