Cardiovascular disease is responsible for nearly a third of all deaths worldwide and is the top cause of death in North America, but despite these dire statistics and the countless hours and dollars spent on treatment and research, cardiovascular disease still lacks an effective solution. The cost and complexity of invasive procedures involved in treating cardiovascular disease has been a consistent obstacle for the medical industry. Although significant medical advancements have come to fruition over the years, there will likely never be a “silver bullet” that can treat all the ailments of a human heart. With the advent of national efforts such as “Precision Medicine Initiative,” there is new hope; however, that relies on improved understanding, better clinical tools and a dramatic shift in the cost structure to use them broadly.
As technology continues to play a significant role in developing medical devices, Dassault Systèmes has placed a special focus on cardiovascular treatment with its “Living Heart Project” initiative. Recently made commercially available after 18 months of development under the guidance of institutions across the academic and medical fields, the project has produced the world’s first generally available, scientifically accurate, 3-D simulation model of a whole human heart. The baseline healthy heart simulation allows device manufacturers, researchers and medical professionals to perform virtual tests and visualize the heart’s response in ways that are not possible with traditional physical testing. Applications include design, testing and implantation of cardiovascular devices, such as Coronary Stents, artificial valves, ventricle assist devices, pacemakers, etcetera. The model is also being used to study heart disease, rhythm management and pre-surgical planning, such as TAVR valve sizing or congenital defect repair. The “Living Heart Project” is one of the most potentially impactful initiatives the company has worked on to date.
The “Living Heart Project” and similar 3-D models have unlimited potential. This project will now allow thousands of cardiologists and researchers worldwide to not only understand the heart’s mechanics in the context of their area of interest, but it will also enable them to share and compare that information in ways that can accelerate diagnosis and ideal selection of treatment. Used in combination with the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, also under development by Dassault Systems, the link between the patient and the best possible diagnostics and treatment expertise can be made.
Started less than two years ago, the “Living Heart Project” was designed to be a crowdsourced initiative, with the goal of bringing the best minds and technology together to create the simulation. From there, a worldwide team of over 150 experts was assembled, including practicing cardiologists, medical device manufacturers, academic researchers, the FDA, the Medical Device Innovation Consortium (MDIC), and hospitals such as St. Jude Medical and Mayo Clinic. All of these organizations brought their combined expertise from independently studying varying aspects of the heart to the table.
Combining all of this expert insight into one technology platform, the project produced a single model to address each key piece of criteria simultaneously. Because of this unique crowdsourcing approach, the model could be independently tested and peer-reviewed on an accelerated schedule — making it possible to very quickly capture much of the intuitive understanding that can only be gained from years of experience with real human hearts.
In addition to the general availability of the heart simulator, members of the “Living Heart Project” have come together to identify high priority applications in order to help shape the functionality of future versions of the model. Dassault Systèmes will continue working with the FDA as part of a five-year collaborative research agreement to drive the use of simulation in the regulatory process, target better standards and virtual trials for pacemaker leads, as well as offer additional tools that can alter the model to represent individual hearts.
The hope is that medical device makers, researchers and cardiologists will use the “Living Heart Project” for research and development to open up a new era of innovation that will transform how heart surgeries are performed and how we learn about our hearts. The ability to personalize treatment will be a huge step for cardiology, and will certainly be the next target for the project. The future of the “Living Heart Project” will be revolutionary in advancing patient care.
Steve Levine is executive director of the Living Heart Project and chief strategy officer, Dassault Systèmes, Simulia.