Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston Children’s Hospital said today they developed a system that can take convert an MRI scan of a heart into a 3-D printed model.
The printed hearts can be used to give surgeons a hands-on, tangible model of the heart they will be operating on before they touch a scalpel, giving them a way to prepare for “anatomical idiosyncrasies of individual patients,” according to MIT.
“Our collaborators are convinced that this will make a difference. The phrase I heard is that ‘surgeons see with their hands,’ that the perception is in the touch,” project leader Polina Golland of MIT said in prepared remarks.
Traditionally, MRI data consists of cross-sections of 3-D objects, with edges defined by dark and light, which can be inconsistent. Researchers overcame this inconsistency issue, known as image segmentation, by asking a human expert to identify boundaries in a handful of the sections and allowing algorithms to fill in the rest. The modeling also required a new procedure to increase the precision of MRI scans 10-fold, MIT said.
With the combination of human segmentation and algorithms, the process takes approximately an hour, the institute said.
“I think that if somebody told me that I could segment the whole heart from eight slices out of 200, I would not have believed them. It was a surprise to us,” Golland said in prepared remarks.
The system will be tested this fall, according to MIT, by 7 cardiac surgeons at Boston Children’s Hospital. The project was funded by the hospital and Harvard Catalyst.
The study will involve MRIs from 10 patients being treated at Boston Children’s Hospital. Seven different surgeons will draw up surgical plans off the models, and compare them to see if the models could improve surgical outcomes.
“Absolutely, a 3-D model would indeed help. We have used this type of model in a few patients, and in fact performed ‘virtual surgery’ on the heart to simulate real conditions. Doing this really helped with the real surgery in terms of reducing the amount of time spent examining the heart and performing the repair,” Boston Children’s Hospital cardiac surgeon Sitaram Emani said in prepared remarks.