A Model Heart


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Steven Levine remembers when the light bulb lit up in his mind. His daughter had been born with the left and right chambers of her heart reversed. She received her first pacemaker at age two and her fourth at 20. While in medical school, she talked with her cardiologist about future treatments.

“It was clear that he didn’t have much data to go on,” Levine recalled. “He would have liked her to go into an MRI machine, but there is a risk because she has three broken pacemaker leads still in her body. So they had a negotiation about risk versus the value of the data.

“Then my daughter asked him what he would do with the data. And he said, ‘I don’t know, but maybe I’ll be able to figure something out.’ ”

After she told Levine, he thought, “This is what I do for a living. If he could get the data, why couldn’t I come up with a structural analysis of it?”

To do that would require a realistic simulation model of the heart. It would not only help answer questions about his daughter’s treatment, but revolutionize cardiovascular care.
A model might help cardiologists predict how a heart condition would progress. It would provide new ways to design and approve cardiovascular devices, which rarely undergo large-scale human testing before commercialization.

Surgeons could use the model to test new procedures or plan the best intervention for patients. Researchers could use it to develop better ways to image constantly beating hearts.

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March 2015

by Alan Brown, Associate Editor, Mechanical Engineering Magazine