September 11, 2016

Leveraging the Power of Simulation to Revolutionize Patient Care

Suresh Aswani

There is no denying the disruptive impact of simulation on industries like automotive, aerospace, oil and gas, and industrial manufacturing. Given it’s proven effects on product development, operations, and the customer experience, it’s no surprise that simulation is now in widespread use in one of the most complex and critical industries of all – healthcare.

“The future of healthcare will no doubt include the use of modeling and simulation to guide our choice of treatments, train our doctors and even educate patients on their role in managing their health,” confirms Dr. Kumaran Kolandaivelu, Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Medical Director, Clinical Research Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Advancements in digital technology are especially crucial in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, a prolific killer that claims the lives of approximately 610,000 men and women in the United States alone each year. Diseases of the heart can be among the most difficult to treat, given the organ’s complex properties and how vital it is to the body’s survival.

Dassault Systèmes’ Living Heart Project is a collaborative effort of leading cardiovascular researchers, educators, medical device developers, regulatory agencies, and practicing cardiologists to develop a highly realistic human heart model. These personalized, 3D virtual models are geared to help the medical community diagnose, treat, and prevent heart conditions as well as advance cardiovascular research initiatives.

The Living Heart Project is the latest example of simulation in healthcare helping to translate current and future cutting edge innovations directly into improved patient care.

Better device development & testing

According to Steven Levine, Chief Strategy Officer at Dassault Systèmes’ and the Executive Director of the Living Heart Project, cardiovascular devices are extremely difficult to design because it’s very hard to simulate a realistic human environment without a live beating heart. A main goal of the Living Heart Project is to allow researchers to evaluate a device’s interaction with the human heart in a way never before possible. Using the Living Heart’s model, researchers can test new cardiovascular devices on a simulated heart before ever needing to place it in an actual human body, helping to prove the device’s safety prior to its release and reduce the cost of personalized devices.

Enhancements to patient safety

Studies have shown that the use of simulation in the healthcare field can improve the real-life performance of clinicians, nurses, and surgeons. A realistic simulation of the human heart can create a safe and flexible environment for healthcare professionals to learn new procedures and hone skills before ever encountering a patient. In the case of the Living Heart, simulation will drive improvements to patient safety by allowing the medical community to gain more experience in a variety of cardiovascular settings and critical situations without ever placing a living, breathing patient at risk.

Advancing research initiatives

Another key goal of the Living Heart project is to help eliminate the need for costly and risky clinical trials. Today’s simulations can help researchers evaluate the effects of new treatments while merging a combination of data from historical trials, electronic health records (EHRs), and the patients themselves to conduct realistic, safe, and cost-effective “virtual” studies. Especially for vital organs like the heart, these simulated trials will go a long way toward protecting participants, increasing the likelihood of reliable test results, and quickly uncovering the benefits and risks associated with new devices and treatments.

Improved patient outcomes

Just as the automotive industry has begun to use computer modeling to simulate test crashes, a realistic 3D model of the human heart will enable cardiologists to virtually explore how individual patients might respond to a range of procedures and treatment plans. Levine says this could mean a surgeon can test a pacemaker’s effectiveness in an individual’s heart before actually implanting it in the patient. These capabilities will help dramatically improve patient outcomes and allow procedures and treatments to be personalized for every patient.

High performance computing technologies are required to support and enable these large and highly complex simulations. A key reason why advanced simulation initiatives such as the Living Heart Project are able to succeed is due in large part to the proliferation of HPC technologies – which due to better availability and declining pricing are now reaching new industries and applications than ever before. HPC is helping to make scientific visualization of the human heart a reality for the mainstream medical community, enabling researchers to leverage real-time information toward better data-driven care decisions and improved quality of patient care.

It’s an exciting time to be in healthcare, as advancements in digital technologies and HPC help to drive the greater good – improving the quality of life, extending patient health, and helping medical professionals learn and grow more rapidly than ever before.