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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 August, 2004, 07:32 GMT 08:32 UK
Virtual 3D heart to treat babies
By Tracey Logan
Go Digital presenter

Surgeons examine virtual heart
Surgeons can look at a heart in magnified detail
Virtual reality techniques are helping Danish doctors diagnose heart defects in newborn babies.

The system turns flat images produced by conventional MRI body scanners into giant, rounded models of the child's heart, which surgeons can navigate through and explore from every angle.

About one in every 100 children is born with a heart defect.

An infant's heart is tiny, no bigger than a plum, so even specialists find it hard to see the nature of a defect.

Spotting defects

The virtual reality (VR) system takes some of the guesswork out of the diagnosis.

Paediatric Surgeon Ole Kromann Hansen
This 3D image gives a good picture for the parents to look at so they can properly understand the defects in their child's heart
Ole Kromann Hansen, Aarhus University Hospital
Paediatric Surgeon Ole Kromann Hansen has been testing the system on his patients at Aarhus University Hospital.

He told the BBC's Go Digital programme that because many people could view the child's virtual reality heart at once, all members of the medical team could discuss and agree on the diagnosis knowing they were all viewing the organ from the same angle.

Research published in last month's Circulation magazine shows that these VR heart images can highlight defects that would be easily missed by doctors studying conventional scans.

The system also lets a doctor revert to the baby's original, flat MRI scan.

It has been developed in collaboration with the University of Aarhus Centre for Advanced Visualisation and Interaction and Systematic Software Engineering.

Future developments of the system will allow surgeons like Mr Hansen to practise the surgical treatments they are planning to use on their tiny patients.

And for the parents of affected children, this system is an important advance.

"It's difficult to explain to parents what kind of heart defect their child has," he said.

"Sometimes it's very complicated. This 3D image gives a good picture for the parents to look at so they can properly understand the defects in their child's heart."

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