VR boosts understanding and confidence when treating congenital heart disease - Main 1

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VR could help to make congenital heart disease surgery even more successful as research into its use for preoperative planning visualisation continues

Quick read

➨ Researchers at Evelina London Children’s Hospital and King’s College London have developed a software platform for creating a digital twin of the heart
➨ The software brings together scans that are routinely used to plan congenital heart disease surgery to create a 3D digital twin of the heart, which is then viewed in VR via a headset
➨ Surgeons have reported a preference for VR for understanding the anatomy of their patient’s hearts

The story

Virtual reality (VR) is being put to work in the fight against congenital heart disease among babies.

Researchers at Evelina London Children’s Hospital and King’s College London have developed a software platform for creating a digital twin of the heart, to support surgeons during preoperative planning to treat an illness that affects as many as 13 babies every day in the UK.

The software brings together scans that are routinely used to plan congenital heart disease surgery to create a 3D digital twin of the heart, which is then viewed in VR via a headset. The researchers believe it could be in regular, wider use in healthcare within the next two years.

UK cardiovascular research charity the British Heart Foundation, which is supporting the research through funding, says the researchers hope that using VR for visualisation to plan and practise procedures will shorten operating times and reduce the need for multiple surgeries.

Trials of an early prototype used ultrasound scans of the heart to create digital twins. The researchers found that surgeons preferred it for understanding the anatomy of their patient’s hearts. It also increased their confidence and improved their decision making.

VR boosts understanding and confidence when treating congenital heart disease - Main 2
Funding has enabled the researchers to add computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to the platform

The British Heart Foundation’s funding has enabled the researchers to add computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to the platform, both of which are usually only viewed on a flat screen, despite being regularly used to help plan surgeries.

The software has also received significant funding from Evelina London Children’s Charity.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, explains why this platform is needed and the difference it could make in tackling congenital heart disease among very young children: “[The] disease is the most common cause of birth defects in babies born in the UK.”

“Every year thousands of heart operations and other procedures are performed for children and adults with congenital heart disease to stop them developing heart failure. Some people will need several procedures during their lifetime.”

“This new technology could help to make congenital heart disease surgery even more successful. It could also support people to better understand the heart or blood vessel abnormalities they are born with and what is being proposed to mend them, which can be empowering for people living with congenital heart disease.”

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Image: the British Heart Foundation

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