In Denmark, about 350 babies need to be operated each year because of heart defect. And their hearts are very small, so it's hard to know the exact kind of defect before the operation. This is why the Aarhus University Hospital is using virtual reality software to model babies' hearts, according to BBC News. Now, surgeons and doctors can visualize a magnified heart in 3D before planning cardiac surgery. This also allows a better communication with parents which can understand what's wrong with their babies before the intervention. As the percentage of affected babies, about one per cent, is probably the same in many other countries, let's hope this software will be widely distributed. Congratulations to these Danish doctors and software writers for this brilliant usage of technology.
Here are how the system works.
The system turns flat images produced by conventional MRI body scanners into giant, rounded models of the child's heart, which surgeons can navigate through and explore from every angle. [And] the virtual reality (VR) system takes some of the guesswork out of the diagnosis.
Let's listen to one of the early testers, Paediatric Surgeon Ole Kromann Hansen.
He told the BBC's Go Digital programme that because many people could view the child's virtual reality heart at once, all members of the medical team could discuss and agree on the diagnosis knowing they were all viewing the organ from the same angle.
And for the parents of affected children, this system is an important advance. "It's difficult to explain to parents what kind of heart defect their child has," he said.
||Here, a surgeon is looking at a virtual heart and its surroundings. With this knowledge, many complications can be avoided. (Credit: Systematic Software Engineering)|
||Using hand-held measuring equipment, the surgeon can grab the 3D model and pull it around in front of the monitor. The model can be turned and rotated as if it were a real object. (Credit: Systematic Software Engineering)|
The software has been developed by Systematic Software Engineering in collaboration with the Center for Advanced Visualization and Interaction (CAVI) in Aarhus. The images above have been extracted from a PDF file (2 pages, 197 KB) that you can download from the Virtual Reality Heart page at Systematic Software Engineering.
For more technical information, the research work has been published by Circulation last June. Here is a link to the abstract of the paper named "Operator-Independent Isotropic Three-Dimensional Magnetic Resonance Imaging for Morphology in Congenital Heart Disease: A Validation Study.".
Sources: Tracey Logan, BBC News Online, August 18, 2004; and various websites