Electrical engineers from MIT teamed up with a physicist and cardiologist from Boston Children’s hospital to develop a fast and accurate way to build personalized 3D models of human hearts. The new method combines human expertise with algorithms to help translate MRI scans into physical replicas of patients’ hearts. Current practices are more manual, and can take up to ten hours of preparation. With the new way, MRI scans become physical models in just three to four hours. Having accurate 3D models will help cardiologists better prepare for surgery.
MRI scans are frequently used to get a sneak peek inside the body, but the imaging usually has some blind spots which are filled in with generic heart representations. However, patients with congenital heart defects are undergoing surgery precisely because they have irregular hearts, so “generic” won’t work. To solve this, experts manually piece together sets of cross sections in order to make a 3D image. The researchers have now developed a fast and accurate way to accomplish the same thing by having experts segment a small area and letting computer algorithms do the rest. Now, medical imaging combines with image recognition software and 3D printing to quickly produce custom models of human hearts.
This drastic reduction in the amount of time it takes to create 3D models is a much more practical way for doctors to prepare for surgery. They can thoroughly explore a patient’s heart in advance, or even test different surgical approaches on the model. The researchers plan to test this new technique in a clinical study this fall, and if all goes well, the same method could be used on other organs.