New Virtual Reality technology to repair hearts

Thursday, 17 March, 2022

• BHF Virtual Reality (VR) technology

New Virtual Reality (VR) technology funded by the BHF could improve outcomes for the thousands of patients who undergo a surgical or keyhole procedure for congenital heart disease every year.

Every day in the UK around 13 babies are diagnosed with congenital heart disease - heart conditions that develop in the womb, before a baby is born. Depending on the severity of their condition, they might need one or more procedures to help their hearts function normally.

Creating a digital double of the heart

The technology, which has been developed by researchers at Evelina London Children's Hospital and King's College London, brings together scans that are routinely used to plan congenital heart disease surgery to create a three-dimensional, beating digital double of the heart.

Shortening operation times

The researchers hope that using VR to plan and practice procedures will shorten operating times and reduce the need for multiple surgeries, leading to better outcomes and experiences for patients and their families. They hope that it could be in regular use within the next two years.

Trials of an early version of the technology, which used only echocardiograms (ultrasound scans of the heart) to create the VR heart, found that surgeons preferred it for understanding the anatomy of their patient's hearts. They also reported that it increased their confidence and improved their decision making.

Two new scans

BHF funding has supported the researchers to add two more types of scans into the system - computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). While these types of scans are regularly used to help plan surgeries, they are usually only viewed on a flat screen.

New immersive technology

BHF Associate Medical Director, Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, said:
"Congenital heart disease is the most common cause of birth defects in babies born in the UK. Every year thousands of heart operations and other procedures are performed for children and adults with congenital heart disease to stop them developing heart failure. Some people will need several procedures during their lifetime.

"This new technology could help to make congenital heart disease surgery even more successful. It could also support people to better understand the heart or blood vessel abnormalities they are born with and what is being proposed to mend them, which can be empowering for people living with congenital heart disease."
The technology has also received significant funding from Evelina London Children's Charity.

BHF have launched a campaign calling for the public's support to power science that could lead to new treatments and cures for all heart and circulatory diseases.

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