What differentiates a good surgeon from an exceptional surgeon? Unlike a good surgeon, exceptional surgeons have the unique ability, perhaps gained through years of experience, of visualizing a human organ in their minds. It is certainly easier said than done, and only a handful of top surgeons around the world are likely to be able to do this with some level of accuracy. But emerging 3-D technology may soon change that and hopefully change how operations as fragile as those dealing with the human heart are dealt with.
Dassault Systèmes is a French company that specializes in 3-D software that helps engineers designing cars and planes avoid potentially fatal flaws in their design by providing accurate 3-D models. Dassault Systèmes is hoping to bring this technology into the world of human heart surgery with the launch of their “Living Heart Project.” The Living Heart Project will work to provide hospitals and surgeons with the technology necessary for modeling a human heart in 3-D from a patient’s scan. The surgeon can wear 3-D glasses and use a joystick to zoom in and out of different parts of the heart as well as listen to the heart beats.
Reconstructing the human heart in 3-D can be useful to test out several possibilities before a big surgical procedure is performed, and much of the activity around the Living Heart Project is focused on researching the human heart in a way that we couldn’t before.
But much skepticism exist around this technology, with some fearing that doctors should not rely too much new, untested technology as opposed to more traditional forms of medical research. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has held back on openly endorsing Dassault Systèmes’ tech, but have been working closely in using it for research purposes. Doctors have not received regulatory approval for using this 3-D technology in making medical decisions, but hospitals can use them for educational and research purposes as well.
The software behind the Living Heart Project is provided by Dassault Systèmes for free to organizations who agree to conduct and share the results of research. There are currently 45 partner organizations working with the Living Heart Project, including Stanford University, University of Oxford and the Mayo Clinic. For those that would need to license this technology, the rates are currently very affordable. $15,000 a year for commercial use while an education license starts at $500 per year.
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