Aug 4, 2017 | By Benedict

Scientists from a number of British and Danish universities have developed a new way to visualize the cardiac conduction system—the process that makes our hearts beat—in 3D. The study, which enables the 3D printing of heart models, could aid research into heart conditions.

Understanding the human heart is a critical area of medical research. By getting to know how the organ behaves, doctors can become better prepared to help us—potentially saving our lives—when the big red ticker goes awry.

New research demonstrates a way of visually representing in 3D the cardiac conduction system, the cells that allow our hearts to beat by generating and distributing a wave of electrical activity that stimulates the heart muscle to contract.

The study, titled “High resolution 3-Dimensional imaging of the human cardiac conduction system from microanatomy to mathematical modelling,” was carried out by scientists at the UK’s Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), The University of Manchester, and Newcastle University, as well as Denmark’s Aarhus University.

Published in Scientific Reports, the research claims to offer a “much more accurate” framework than ever before, and could ultimately help doctors tackle unusual and dangerous heart rhythms. Atrial fibrillation, one such rhythm, affects 1.4 million people in the UK.

The new 3D data system is able to show exactly where cardiac conduction system is in a normal heart—that happens to be right up close to the aortic valve—but could also be used to gather information about less stable hearts.

“The 3D data makes it much easier to understand the complex relationships between the cardiac conduction system and the rest of the heart,” explains LJMU’s Professor Jonathan Jarvis. “We also use the data to make 3D printed models that are really useful in our discussions with heart doctors, other researchers, and patients with heart problems.”

The researchers say the 3D system could help cardiologists identify the location of the cardiac conduction system in abnormal hearts. This will help surgeons carry out tricky procedures to repair the organ without damaging it.

To obtain 3D data about hearts, post-mortem organs were in a solution of iodine, which makes them able to absorb X-rays. X-rays are then used to collect detailed 3D images on the hearts, identifying the boundaries between single heart cells and detecting the direction in which they are arranged.

The data gathered from these X-rays can be turned into an accurate digital version of the scanned heart, and can even be transformed into a 3D printable model to help surgeons prepare for procedures.

“When the data is presented as 3D images or 3D printed models, it will inform discussions between medical teams and their patients, and aid the education of medical and surgical trainees,” the researchers explain in their paper.

Micro-CT scanning was carried out using the Nikon Metris XTEK 320 kV Custom Bay and Nikon XTEK XTH 225 kV systems at the Manchester X-Ray Imaging Facility at the University of Manchester.

“This is just the beginning,” claims Dr Halina Dobrzynski of the University of Manchester. “The British Heart Foundation is supporting my group to visualize this system in 3D from aged and failing hearts. With my research assistant Andrew Atkinson, and working with Professor Jonathan Jarvis, Robert Stephenson, and others, we will produce families of data from aged and failing hearts in 3D.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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