Dec 3, 2017 | By Benedict

Students from three Dutch universities have developed “Heartbits,” a 3D printing and virtual reality (VR) tool for visually explaining heart defects to patients. Heartbits was initially a VR project developed with a Microsoft Hololens headset, but now also includes 3D printed models.

For both doctors and patients, serious discussions about heart conditions can be difficult: not only because of the sometimes bad news being delivered, but also because it’s hard to explain complex heart problems in non-specialist terms.

Students from three Dutch universities—TU Delft, Leiden University, and the University of Wageningen—have therefore come up with a better way for doctors to tell patients what’s wrong with their heart.

Their idea is a service called “Heartbits,” which was developed as part of the students’ participation in the Advanced Prototyping course at TU Delft. Heartbits uses VR and 3D printing to make heart diagnoses easier to understand.

Heartbits goes back to November 2016, when a team of six students began working together on the four-week university project. Their aim was to develop a VR tool that could be used to show patients their specific heart defect in 3D, bringing the virtual heart to life with a beating animation.

Over the course of that initial project, the students enjoyed mixed success: while they were able to develop a VR tool from scratch, they weren’t able to achieve everything they set out to.

For example, the team used a heart sensor to monitor a user’s heart, the idea being that this live heartbeat data could be used to make the VR heart animation beat in sync with the user’s real heart.

That didn’t work out in the end, largely because the student group was tackling software they had never used before—achieving most of their results through trial and error.

Heartbits didn’t die at the end of that university course, however. Now, a year later, the team has returned with a modified project. This time, instead of focusing on VR, the students want to use 3D printed heart models as a way to achieve the same end goal: showing patients what their heart defects look like.

The new iteration of Heartbits uses patient-specific CT scan data to create 3D printed heart models. These models show patients what their own hearts look like, giving them a clear picture of what’s going on inside them.

It’s not just a way for doctors to inform patients either. The students behind the 3D printing project say these 3D printed models can be used for patients to explain their condition to their family and friends.

“You can show it to a loved one,” explains TU Delft student Tom Schild, one of the creators of Heartbits. “You can say to them ‘that's how it works and this is what's wrong with my heart, so I might not be able to participate in that bicycle activity with the family!’”

Ultimately, however, Heartbits still wants to make use of VR as well. Since 3D printed models take a while to fabricate, and since not every hospital or town has access to a 3D printer, VR headsets like the Microsoft Hololens remain a useful way of demonstrating a visual problem in 3D.

A year on, the team still hasn’t totally mastered the art of VR, but is still very serious about making the concept work. The students and their respective universities are currently looking into the possibility of forming a company out of Heartbits.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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All Things 3D wrote at 12/5/2017 3:28:08 AM:

This is great and something I have pursued as well. I also agree with their assessment that tangible models take too long and can be expensive. I will also contact them to let them know that if they are not already using '3D Slicer' they should, but more importantly there was a researcher who made a VR plug-in for a beta of the Oculus Rift that allowed you to view Volume Renders in VR, which is extremely details and more important, the ability walk around and change the position of the Volume Renders. Below is a link to several plug-ins for different platforms, however it is unknown if they are up-to-date.

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