Providing Information Doctors and Patients Can Easily See: Heart Simulator Helps Understand Heart Behavior Visually with VR

For Sharing Knowledge of Human Heart : Visualizing Disease Virtually for Doctors and Patients

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has contributed to medicine in various ways, including in-hospital electronic health record system, development of new medical devices, drug discovery, image analyzing technology and many other contributions that are too numerous to list here.

Recently the application of a new technology has begun. This technology simulates the movements and functionality of organs and visualizes the result using computer graphics (CG). The simulator and viewer can share the knowledge of heart phenomenon and disease.

Each human body is unique, and the internal organs vary among individuals. It isn't uncommon that these individual differences cause varied effects of an operation or varied speed of post-operative recovery. If a scientific approach enables the simulation of individual patients' organs, we may be able to provide the optimal treatment for each patient, or made-to-order medicine.

Among various organs, the heart poses the biggest challenge for a large number of patients worldwide. With other organs, it is relatively easy to locate problem areas and observe the condition using MRI or CT scans. However, heart muscles are difficult to take images of. Doctors use measuring instruments to analyze cardiac functions. In order to examine many patients with different conditions with a high degree of accuracy, we need to further increase the amount of information we acquire as well as improve the accuracy of that information.

Using VR, Simulating Hard-to-observe Heart

The University of Tokyo and Fujitsu launched a joint research on heart simulation in 2008 and began a clinical study in 2013, accumulating findings on heart simulation and post-operative predictions. Now we are able to show the optimal electrode positions for a pacemaker (a medical device) and predict how the heart's behavior will change after an operation. The time required to compute data for five heartbeats, which used to take nearly 10 days for a computer, is reduced to about 10 hours.

Output data of simulated diseases is effective educational material. Therefore, Fujitsu has put on the market the software Heart Explorer (Note 1), which models the heart in 3D for observation and analysis. It simulates the heart's behavior and disease conditions and provides a stereoscopic view of heart movement, blood flow, pressure and flow of electrical signals in virtual reality (VR).

Three-dimensional viewing using VR technology

The heart has one of the more complex structures in the body, and it is difficult to learn about topics like the complex movement of heart muscles or the flow of blood from text. Heart Explorer uses data output from the heart simulator created using the K computer and other computing resources. It reproduces mechanical and chemical behavior and disease conditions, such as electrical phenomena in patient's organs, heart contractions, heart valve movement, the state of blood flow and distribution of pressure.

  • (Note 1) The official name of the product: Fujitsu Healthcare Solution Heart Explorer

Using Heart Explorer in the Field of Education

Medical students can use Heart Explorer to stereoscopically simulate the contractions of heart muscles and the state of arrhythmic heart, which conventional textbooks, 3D models and CG are unable to show. With Heart Explorer, students can now study medicine more efficiently, leading to an increase in the number of medical professionals.

At a doctors' conference, for example, a presenter can show the behavior of the heart with the same disease as that of a certain patient and explain how an operation will change blood flow and pressure, thereby sharing accumulated technical knowledge with other doctors. As for a patient, when a doctor explains about an upcoming operation, the patient can view before-and-after organ using the software, thereby gaining a better understanding of the operation.

This is just the beginning of using simulation in medicine. If medical students use Heart Explorer to acquire knowledge of medicine while understanding the state of a beating heart, it will create an environment for actively utilizing simulation in the field of medicine in the future.

Simulation is making significant contributions to medicine. By supporting doctors and patients using ICT, Fujitsu will continue to contribute to the advancement of medicine.