Love inspires engineer to 3D model the human heart

An engineer has created a 3D model of the human heart, inspired by his daughter's heart condition, with the goal of creating a library of virtual hearts for researchers to use whenever they want.

Today’s the day to celebrate romantic love with heart-shaped everything. But what about the workings of the actual human heart?

Steven Levine is a mechanical engineer at Dassault Systèmes, the company that developed CATIA, the software modeling used for designing curving metal forms from fighter jets to Frank Gehry’s undulating facades.

But he is applied this technology to medicine — and for him its a passion project, literally.

“I started this journey 26 years ago when my daughter was born with a rare congenital defect,” he explained to DnA. “Her heart is reversed, as she likes to say. The left and right size are transposed and people don’t really understand how it works. Somehow it works, but not perfectly and they don’t really know how long it will last. . . And so I thought if we can help engineers around the world build the safest cars and the best planes, why can’t we look inside and help doctors do the same thing for people?”

He then learned that even though heart disease is the number one cause of death, “there were thousands of researchers and clinicians and people all studying different aspects of the heart but very few people had ever put it together in a way that it actually makes it into the hands of a clinician. So I said, ‘let’s start a project to bring everybody together and see if we could all work on a single model,'”

The result is The Living Heart Project, helmed by Levine, and working on the realization of a 3d Living Heart Model. Levine has assembled a team of 85 organizations, including doctors and other healthcare professionals from across the globe, medical companies and representatives from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Typically, he says, doctors have to look at two dimensional scans, “so we’re creating a tool that lets them exercise their knowledge in reality.” Doctors can “take our engineering data and turn it into essentially a virtual reality hologram and three dimensional models that people can interact with look inside. In fact I’ve built a 3-D cave you can actually step inside and be inside a beating heart and feel the vibrations and see exactly how it’s moving.”

Since its founding, the project has run tens of thousands of different hearts on Intel’s supercomputer with the goal of creating a library of virtual hearts that researchers can use whenever they want.

Now Dassault’s full 3D heart model is in the testing phase, says Levine, “as we are working closely with the FDA to ensure sustainability of the technology. However members of the project have already begun to use the technology to advise surgeons and are in the process of validating outcomes, which can take time as patients heal. One of our member companies (Biomodex) uses our biophysics to 3D print organs with realistic feel to allow surgeons to practice tough cases.”

Most importantly, we asked Levine, has he been able to apply the model to his daughter’s heart condition?

He explained that a cardiologist has suggested she consider a valve replacement soon as a preventative measure to possibly delay the need for a full heart transplant.

So he is working with biomedical engineers Stanford to understand her electro-mechanics and build a model of her heart condition in the hope of applying it to her measurements “which would provide a more insightful way to determine if and when this might be appropriate for her or others like her. Her cardiologists parting advice to me was, “please hurry up”.”

More about the Living Heart Project at Dassault Systèmes

Slate reports “A Digital Twin of Your Body Could Become a Critical Part of Your Health Care”