New virtual reality technology may improve outcomes for patients undergoing surgery or keyhole surgery for congenital heart disease.
Developed by researchers from the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences at Kings College London and Evelina London Children’s Hospital, the technology brings together scans routinely used to plan congenital heart disease to create a three-dimensional, beating digital twin of the heart. .
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The researchers hope that using VR to plan and practice procedures will shorten surgery times and reduce the need for multiple surgeries, leading to better outcomes and experiences for patients and their families. They hope it can be brought into regular use within the next two years.
“We’ve had a lot of help from the fantastic team at King’s Medical Engineering Quality Management System, who are helping us turn the device from a prototype into a nationally regulated device that can be used to plan these complex procedures,” said Dr. Natasha Stephenson, Clinical Research Fellow in Congenital Cardiovascular Imaging in the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences.
Trials of an early version of the technology, which used only ultrasound scans of the heart to create the VR heart, found that surgeons preferred to understand the anatomy of their patient’s heart. They also reported that it boosted their confidence and improved their decision-making.
Financing the British Heart Foundation and Evelina London Children’s Charity supported the researchers in introducing computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans into the system. While these types of scans are regularly used to plan surgeries, they are usually only viewed on a flat screen.
Now, surgeons using the technology are immersed in the heart, allowing them to interact with and manipulate the images. They can also test options for the procedure in VR before going to the operating table.
“Procedures to restore the anatomy of the heart can be complex, and surgeons don’t like surprises,” said lead researcher Professor John Simpson, professor of pediatric and fetal cardiology at Eveline London and King’s College London† “Our technology allows surgeons to plan and practice these procedures, and we are currently seeking approval to use it in this way.”
He continued, “We think this technology could be used beyond surgery for congenital heart disease, to plan any procedure that aims to correct a structural problem in the heart, such as valve surgery in an adult patient.”