Virtual hearts help cardiologists plan treatment

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Computer technology has been developed that enables clinicians to create computer models of the heart, which not only reflect the individual anatomical make-up of the patient’s real organ, but can also mimic accurately its movement as it beats.

The models could help improve treatment of patients with heart failure, coronary artery disease and congenital heart defects. They are created by combining data from existing diagnostic technologies such as CT, MRI and ECGs, as well as measuring blood flow and pressure in the coronary arteries.

Now a new European Union-funded research project, led by Philips Healthcare, is developing the technology further so clinicians can also map the unique electrical and muscle activity within the heart. This means clinicians should be able to work out the likely impact of different treatment options and so devise the best therapy for an individual patient, according to Philips.

Currently, electrophysiologists rely on experience to decide which areas to target, however, this is a challenge as electrical activity in a person’s heart is subtly different. With a computer model, which perfectly matches the patient’s anatomy and mimics the electrical activity of their heart, EPs could instead know in advance the likely impact of destroying specific areas of tissue and so work out the likely success of the treatment for a patient.

The euHeart project involves public and private partners from 16 research, academic, industrial and medical organizations from seven different European countries—Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, France and the UK. The project will run for four years and has a budget of $28 million, of which $20 million will be provided by the EU.

Modeling and computing “may ultimately allow us to select and optimize the best treatment for individual patients,” said Reza Razavi, MD, head of the division of imaging sciences at King’s College London in the UK, which is one of the consortium members.

A video of the computer-generated beating heart can be viewed online.