Researchers use leading edge, 3D heart simulations to create a “library of hearts” that can help improve precision care in the fight against cardiovascular disease.
Blood-red plastic models of the human heart with sections showing interconnected chambers are great for understanding human anatomy but now seem antiquated compared to the 3D Living Heart model enabled by a supercomputer and available from Dassault Systèmes.
Designed by a cross-disciplinary group of medical, technology and health industry experts, the Living Heart simulates the function of a real heart. It could become a standard tool for diagnosing and treating heart disease. It could even open up a wave of new health science applications, said Dr. Steve Levine, executive director of the Living Heart Project for Dassault Systèmes, the 3DEXPERIENCE company.
Levine said the model could lead to more personalized care and the creation of different models that simulate other organs. Ultimately, he envisions a future where each person will have a personalized 3D model of their entire body.
“I think what we all would love to have is a digital representation of ourselves so that we can do everything from virtually trying on clothing when shopping online to understanding our health such as which foods would help us live healthier lives or which specific drugs will work for us,” said Levine.
Over the next five years, nearly 100 million people are expected to die from cardiovascular disease. Despite major 20th-century advances such as electrocardiography, potent drugs, pacemakers, angiograms and even heart transplants, cardiovascular disease is still the world’s number one killer, responsible for some 17 million deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization.
Launched two years ago, the Living Heart Project aims to arm doctors, researchers, medical device makers and regulatory agencies with the same powerful digital simulation tools that have transformed the aeronautics and automotive industries.
Creating something like the living heart model is incredibly complicated, but now it is proven possible, said Levine.
“In some ways it’s the confluence of technologies for the virtual world of gaming that is providing new fuel for science and medicine,” he said.
Levine said this first-of-its-kind product is changing the way people think about the future of healthcare. The model will need to pass health regulations and more testing before getting into the hands of health providers.
Levine said the heart modeling system will continue evolving to include more capability such as the deep science from genomics as well as incorporate patient data to achieve its fullest potential.
“It holds real potential to improve the care of the sickest heart patients,” said Dr. John Sotos, Chief Medical Officer in Intel’s Sales and Marketing Group, and a cardiologist himself.
Sotos said advancements in high-performance computing, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning will all be brought to bear in the battle against heart disease.
Simulating the living heart of a specific patient allows doctors to understand more about their patient. A physician can view current conditions in real-time then project how a patient would react to a pacemaker or other cardiological treatments.
“The toughest decisions in cardiology occur when the physician and patient must decide between two very different treatments that have relatively uncertain outcomes,” explained Sotos. “Anything that lessens the uncertainty – like the Living Heart Simulator – will be a welcome innovation.”
To build the Living Heart Model, Levine assembled an interdisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, including scores of doctors from across the globe, some 30 companies, seven clinicians, and representatives from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Levine said the project has run tens of thousands of different hearts on Intel’s supercomputer.
“We’re generating a first-of-its-kind, massive database of all the possible behaviors a human heart could experience,” Levine said.
Machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence where computers use data to learn and anticipate behaviors, can turn that data into an immensely powerful diagnostic tool: a library of virtual hearts that researchers can use whenever they want.
“Using the virtual heart library, if you want to perform virtual surgery to select the right device or practice a difficult procedure, you can then go back and say, ‘give me the full heart model that was in the database, because now I want to try putting a valve in it and see what happens,’” Levine said.
A regulatory agency like the FDA could use virtual patient data generated from the Living Heart Model to test drugs or medical devices, saving millions of dollars and bringing new treatments to patients more quickly. To help, Levine wants to feed real human heart data from millions of sensors (think Fitbits, Apple Watches and other wearable health trackers) into the model and see what can be learned.
“Making the connection from understanding a heart to being able to understand a population is very interesting,” said Levine. For example, The Living Heart Project can help researchers better understand the differences between men’s and women’s hearts and develop more effective treatments.
The Living Heart Project is also netting insights for building future computer chips.
“Simulating our designs with these real-life workloads gets us closer to designing technologies that the market wants,” said Sotos. “It’s a two-way street.”
Hearts beating in real humans are the primary beneficiaries of the Living Heart Project. Patients sitting in doctors’ offices facing scary unknowns will have a better understanding of their own physiology and the medicine designed to heal them.