3D computer models based on patient data will help surgeons in decision-making
In roughly a year’s time, patients
at the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS)
could have scans of
their hearts turned into 3D models on
a computer screen.
These virtual reality representations
of their hearts will be true to
life and will also beat as theirs do.
This will let cardiac surgeons
make better pre-surgery plans,
especially for non-invasive procedures
in which the chest is not
opened up and doctors perform
surgery through inserting a catheter
in the patient’s leg and navigating
it up to the heart.
The 3D models, created from
real patient data, can also be used
as a teaching tool for young
To this end, the heart centre is
working with researchers from
Nanyang Technological University’s
(NTU) Institute of Media
Innovation, which will set up a
virtual reality lab at NHCS for surgical
planning and doctor training
using the virtual hearts.
This comes even as KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital
was reported earlier this month to
be using physical 3D-printed
models of children’s hearts to
improve pre-surgical planning for
complex congenital heart conditions.
The hospital started doing so
about a year ago.
Similarly, Dr Zhong Liang, a
principal investigator at NHCS,
said that the virtual hearts can
improve pre-treatment planning.
“It gives surgeons better visuals
for decision-making and also
shortens the diagnosis process,”
While scanning technology
currently can give surgeons
images of the heart, the images
are in 2D.
Dr Zhong said this means that
while surgeons can see problematic
areas of the heart, it is hard to
Currently, doctors practise on
cadavers or animals, but there are
problems with this.
Cadavers do not have blood
flow, their muscular structures
are damaged and the hearts do
Surgery on live animals, such as
monkeys or pigs, presents another
issue – it is expensive and can
cost up to $10,000 each.
Another issue is that when surgeons
need to “see” where their
catheters are going during surgery,
they perform fluoroscopy on
This process uses X-ray dyes
and exposes patients to radiation
–which is not ideal.
At the same time, it also does
not give surgeons a sense of
But Dr Zhong hopes to bring the
virtual hearts into the operating
theatres to help address these
problems and, hopefully, eliminate
the need for fluoroscopy.
The collaboration between NTU
and NHCS is part of a memorandum
of understanding signed in
January between the university
and SingHealth for a five-year
tie-up that pumps up to $300,000
in six joint research projects.
NHCS and NTU are now applying
for more funding to set up the
virtual reality laboratory and to
conduct more research around
The biggest potential for the
technology is in children, said
researchers, because their peripheral
arteries are smaller and the
virtual hearts can let surgeons
plan a more accurate path for
The researchers are looking to
run two clinical trials.