When doctors can immerse themselves in your heart’s unique biology, they can plan the most effective treatments and make more informed decisions about what will work for you. 3D modeling is helping them to achieve this dream.
“Computational modeling is a very important part of the personalization of medicine,” said Elazer Edelman, professor in medical engineering and science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and senior attending physician in the coronary care unit at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “We can reconstruct a person’s anatomy. We can even predict their biologic response. And the day will come when we can use computational modeling to allow us to choose a drug, a device, an intervention for a specific person, so we no longer have to rely on experience or intuition—or just luck—in choosing what would be best for our specific patient.”
This is just one example of how the Living Heart Project is leading a digital revolution in healthcare. What started as a Dassault Systèmes research project to explore the possibilities of 3D heart simulation has led to the creation of a worldwide consortium with hundreds of leading researchers, educators, medical device developers, cardiologists and regulatory agencies aligned in a mission to develop, validate and apply the model to new and innovative forms of research and personalized treatments.
In 2014, the Living Heart Project developed the first virtual heart model—now available to all—that can replicate every facet of a healthy adult human heart in minute detail, from the electrical signals to the structure and functions to how blood flows in a beating heart. The model can be customized using real-life data to replicate the unique characteristics of any patient’s heart, which can then be analyzed to evaluate all possible treatment options.
“Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death worldwide, but research was fragmented and siloed,” said Steve Levine, the Dassault Systèmes engineer and virtual modeling specialist behind the project, whose own daughter has lived with a heart condition since birth. “The heart is buried deep in our chest to protect it, but that represents a massive challenge to understand it when something goes wrong. Our vision was to create a common platform with a single, working model of the human heart that can be used to share knowledge, ideas and expertise across the entire industry."
The Living Heart allows physicians to not only understand a patient’s heart condition, but also interact with a functioning 3D heart model on a computer screen or in virtual reality—even watch it beat from inside the heart itself. Most importantly, it offers the opportunity to test treatment options to determine the best one, before ever touching the patient. This will transform healthcare, from education and training to design of new medical devices and drugs, all the way through clinical diagnosis and treatment. The model—accessible on the cloud—can even transform the experience for the patient and their family by demystifying their condition, allowing them to visualize and understand complex surgical procedures and their possible outcomes.
“Computational modeling will be an essential part of everything we do as clinicians and scientists,” Edelman said. “We’ve advanced from a static X-ray to three-dimensional reconstructions. Now imagine if we could intervene virtually and show the physician and the patient what would happen if we do this operation, this intervention, this insertion and implantation. This is all going to be part of the medicine of the future, and it will happen in our lifetime.”
The members of the Living Heart Project are making that future happen now. To find out how the US Food and Drug Administration is testing virtual models as a substitute for animal and human trials, read our Expert Opinion article from Tina Morrison of the US FDA.