Reconstructing the Heart Using a Supercomputer for Virtual Surgery! Improving the Success Rate of Difficult Surgery

Reconstructing unknown heart movements on a computer (joint research by the University of Tokyo’s Hisada Laboratory and Fujitsu)

Heart attacks and heart diseases are the second largest cause of death among Japanese people. However, despite the heart’s great importance, many mysteries remain. Thus, even today serious difficulties are involved in heart surgery. In some cases as a result of a heart attack, gaps occur in the timing of heartbeats on the right and left sides of the heart, leading to a significant decrease in the ability to effectively pump blood through the body.. In such cases, one treatment method is Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy (CRT), in which a pacemaker is implanted to synchronize the heartbeats on both sides of the heart. However, besides being very expensive and imposing a physical burden on patients, this therapy also has a major problem in that it has no effect on 30% of patients.

The University of Tokyo and Fujitsu are now collaborating to develop a system for virtual surgery designed to reconstruct heart movements on a computer in order to explore the most appropriate treatment methods.

Virtual surgery on a computer-simulated heart, identify the best treatment and improve success rates

Virtual surgery on a computer sounds like science fiction, so how is it possible? Researchers at the University of Tokyo’s Hisada and Sugiura Laboratory started by developing UT-Heart, a simulator that can reconstruct the shape and movements of the heart on a computer based cross-section of a heart and its electrocardiogram. Then, using the UT-Heart simulator, the researchers created a computer model of the pre-surgery heart of a patient who had underwent heart attack surgery. They performed virtual surgery in which they attached a pacemaker to the heart model by following the same procedures as for actual surgery.

As a result, they confirmed the electrocardiogram after virtual surgery was nearly the same as after actual surgery, indicating that it is now possible to check results of actual surgery via virtual surgery. Furthermore, the simulator also enabled researchers to calculate the electrode layout, which can increase the amount of blood pumped by the heart. This also opens up the possibility of exploring more effective treatment methods by performing virtual surgery.

Fujitsu contributed by preparing individual data on patients based on medical image data as well as by developing a visualization system for presenting simulation results to doctors in an easy-to-understand way.

It will still take some time before virtual surgery can be used in the actual treatment process. However, it is already at the application level. In the near future, by calculating the most appropriate electrode layout for each patient, the simulator is expected to improve the success rate and treatment effects for heart surgery, which is said to have no effect on 30% of patients.

Accurately reconstructing each myocardial cell, giving hope for treatment of intractable diseases with the K computer

Fujitsu also supports research and development of heart simulators designed to reconstruct the heart on the K computer as well as other programs for using supercomputers to treat intractable diseases. It takes a conventional computer approximately 2 years to calculate the movements involved in a single heartbeat. By contrast, the K computer can perform the same calculation in only 11 hours. By using the supercomputer to calculate in detail the movements of each heart muscle cell, Fujitsu has succeeded in accurately reconstructing the movements involved in heartbeats. High-precision simulation of heartbeats at the myocardial cell level is expected to lead to more in-depth studies in the future, including analysis of the causes of dilated cardiomyopathy and other intractable diseases as well as the detection of drug side effects.

There is even the idea of using the K computer to reconstruct an entire human body. If such a goal is realized, advanced medical care will enter the next stage of development, which will include treatment of Parkinson’s disease and other intractable diseases as well as early prediction of disease development. Through the use of ICT, Fujitsu will continue making efforts to use supercomputers to support human life.

Note: The K computer is a supercomputer developed jointly by RIKEN and Fujitsu.