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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

SIMULIA Simulates 3D Heart That Helps Define Future Diagnosis and Treatment

June 24th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

For a truly unique spin on solving an age-old problem, Dassault Systemes recently unveiled the first 3D realistic simulation model of an entire human heart. Developed with a multidisciplinary team of heart experts to help combat cardiovascular disease, the Living Heart Project is launching the next frontier in diagnosing, treating, and preventing heart conditions through personalized, 3D virtual models.

The Living Heart project, launched in January 2014, unites cardiovascular researchers and educators with medical device manufacturers, regulatory agencies, and practicing cardiologists on a shared mission to develop and validate personalized digital human heart models and establish a unified foundation for cardiovascular in silico medicine. These models can serve as a core technology base for education and training, medical device design, testing and regulatory science—thereby creating a path for rapidly translating cutting edge innovations into improved patient care.

At the center of the project is a 3D heart model powered by SIMULIA applications to develop a comprehensive 3D heart model, capturing the electrical, mechanical, and fluid behavior of the heart in a realistic way. Other DS products used for the project included SolidWorks for modeling the heart and 3DVIA was used for animations and demonstrations.

SIMULIA Introduces the Living Heart Project

The Living Heart Project is driven by a growing ecosystem that is fueling the collaborative development of validated, commercially available heart models and exploring novel digital therapies through the use of proven, multiphysics simulation technology. The aim is to accelerate the synthesis of multidisciplinary knowledge to provide personalized, interventional cardiac-patient care. The project really boils down to a complex multi-physics problem that involves electrical stimulation to the heart, a physical response to that stimulation, the heart beat that pumps blood (fluid) that creates pressure.

Today, the lack of realistic 3D human models limits researchers’ ability to predict device behavior in humans. The Living Heart Project has attracted a multidisciplinary community of medical researchers, practitioners, device manufacturers and industry regulators who will have access to 3D computational models to accelerate the translation of research innovation into market-driven products and services.

Using echocardiogram, MRI and CT scan images, along with cardiac research data, personalized 3D heart simulations will soon allow medical professionals to better understand the behavior a patient’s heart without the need for additional invasive diagnostic procedures. The project is envisioned to help understand non-typical heart problems on a level that most medical people don’t normally deal with, according to Steven Levine, Senior Director, SIMULIA Portfolio Management, who had previous experience in the life sciences.

The Living Heart Project is connecting many minds in cardiovascular modeling and simulation to solve these tough challenges using SIMULIA applications‘ capabilities for simulating complex nonlinear behavior to produce realistic and reliable results.

This realistic human heart simulation will not only become a valuable educational and translational tool to incite research innovation, but may also lead to accelerated regulatory approval cycles, reduced development costs for new and more personalized devices and will ultimately enable early diagnoses and improve treatment outcomes.

The project began last year, when Levine observed that simulation technology was approaching a tipping point in replicating the physics of living systems. Aware of the impact of cardiovascular disease, currently the #1 cause of death worldwide, he and his team had already performed introductory studies to explore the possibility of simulating a human heart. However, to make the translation from proof-of-concept to clinical practice, it would require an effort beyond what SIMULIA could provide alone.

The Living Heart Project: Traveling Inside a Human Heart

The plan was simple, yet visionary: use SIMULIA’s technology and the 3D EXPERIENCE platform to challenge the scientific community to create a realistic 3D simulation of a beating, human heart—one that could be employed as a foundation to build personalized models based on a patient’s measured data to gain insight into potential cardiovascular diseases and methods of treatment.

While simulation has gained broad adoption in many industries, healthcare remains the final frontier. Strides have certainly been made in medical device development, but the extreme complexity of the human body continues to hamper the quest for lifelike accuracy. Also, without virtual models, regulators often have no choice but to accept laboratory testing as validation for new medical devices, with failures and recalls grabbing news headlines with disappointing regularity.

In launching the project, SIMULIA reached out to researchers, device developers, and cardiac physicians, emphasizing the validity—and potential—of the effort. It was quickly recognized that, if successful, they would have an important platform for medical innovation.

“There are millions of patients out there who really need this technology today, including my own daughter,” Levine says. “Participation has gained momentum beyond our expectations. Before we release it, the first model will be tested by the community in their respective disciplines. In fact, the FDA is watching the project with great interest, as part of a Regulatory Science initiative. Its aim is to inspire leadership from the community—and SIMULIA and collaborators have stepped up through The Living Heart Project.”

The project has high aspirations. Simulating an entire human heart that beats realistically is a highly coupled, multi-scale, multi-physics problem layered on top of a complex materials engineering problem. Initially, the focus will be electromechanical applications for device design, such as pacemaker leads, stents, and artificial valves.

However, project collaborators are already exploring its applicability to study treatment for heart disease or personalized ventricular assist devices. Future versions will include blood flow and thrombosis-related applications, with increasingly detailed models of electrical pathways eventually reaching the cellular level. The knowledge developed under this project could one day pave the way for fully 3D-printed bioficial hearts.

Levine’s personal side to his great interest and motivation in this project is easily to understand. His daughter was born with a congenital heart problem that miraculously repaired itself and she is now healthy and in her 20s. Even so, her condition sparked his dedication to this project.

“This project began with a challenge to realistically simulate the physics of the heart,” said Levine. “As it evolves, we already see it beginning to transform how people think about what is possible and how this could serve as a platform to translate science into meaningful medical practice. We can imagine that this will lead to a new paradigm for data delivered directly into the hands of physicians; not simply 2D patient scan data, but fully analyzed 3D models where abnormal behavior is clearly identified and treatment options evaluated.”

This entirely new application for multiphysics simulation using SIMULIA is intriguing and its implications for helping those in need is limitless.

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