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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 00:42 GMT
Virtual heart aids doctors
Virtual heart
The virtual heart can be inserted into a virtual torso
A computer simulation of the heart is helping doctors to improve the treatment they can give to patients who have had a cardiac arrest.

Treating somebody who has had a heart attack may require instant action if they are to be kept alive.

Often, there is no time to try out two or three ideas to see which would be best.


We can then test different pharmacological and physical treatments that could help the patient

Dr Richard Clayton
The new computer simulation allows doctors and physicists to model the faulty heart beats (arrhythmias) that can cause cardiac arrest, and run episodes of arrhythmia time and again, looking for the best way of treating it.

The virtual heart can be inserted into a virtual torso to get a simulated electrocardiogram.

The technology has been developed by a team from the University of Leeds, UK, led by Dr Richard Clayton.

He said: "During a healthy heart beat a wave of electrical activity sweeps through the heart muscle, moving from the inside towards the outer surface making the heart start to contract, before dying away.

"During cardiac arrest this normal pattern is disturbed. The electrical activity fails to die away properly, and moves around the muscle in a turbulent pattern causing an arrhythmia known as ventricular fibrillation.

"Our detailed biophysical and anatomical model can simulate this activity and we can then test different pharmacological and physical treatments that could help the patient."

Complex

The simulation requires massive computing power, and even using high-speed equipment it takes 24 hours to simulate a second of heart activity.

The end result, however, is a sequence of colour images of the beating heart, showing the pattern of electrical activity, and enabling researchers to visualise the effects of different therapies.

Dr Clayton said: "At the same time we can simulate the electrical signals that would be detected by external monitoring devices, and show how the particular state of the heart would appear in a clinical electrocardiogram trace."

This allows their simulation system to provide information that will assist in day-to-day care of patients who are prone to ventricular fibrillation following a heart attack.

Dr Clayton's work is funded by the British Heart Foundation. He works in collaboration with University of Auckland.

See also:

07 Sep 99 | Health
Computer 'improves heart care'
15 Apr 98 | Sci/Tech
Computer heart to beat disease
17 Jan 02 | Health
Online heart disease prevention
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