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Scientists develop personalised heart models to improve cardiac care

A computer model that simulates the activity of individual patients’ hearts may lead to more effective treatment for a common heart condition affecting more than a million people in the UK and abroad.

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Developed by researchers at King’s, the new technique means that different treatment options for atrial fibrillation can be assessed in advance and tailored to the specific needs of individual patients.

Atrial fibrillation reduces blood supply, leading to dizziness, and irregular heartbeat breathlessness and fatigue, and increases the risk of a stroke. Every year, around 10,000 people in the UK have a catheter inserted in order to treat the condition using radio frequency energy. However, this procedure is not always successful and, in some instances, can be fatal.

In response to this, Dr Adelaide de Vecchi and colleagues created a system that uses detailed data about patient’s heart, obtained through medical imaging, and computational modelling to map tissue condition and blood flow, and enables simulation of around 10 cardiac cycles lasting a few seconds in total. This can then be used to assess the effectiveness of different treatments for individual patients.

Dr Adelaide de Vecchi who has led the project, says: ‘The really important thing is that these new personalised models show the heart working as a whole 'system'. They allow different catheter ablation strategies to be assessed for each specific patient – for example, with regard to the precise area of the heart to target – and therefore enable the very best option to be pinpointed, maximising the prospect of improving the patient’s quality of life.’

The models have been tested in collaboration with Dr David Nordsletten, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Engineering, Dr Oleg Aslanidi, Senior Lecturer in Imaging Sciences & Biomedical Engineering, and Dr Des Dillon-Murphy, Research Associate, using clinical data from patients under the care of Professor Mark O’Neill at St Thomas’ Hospital. 

The aim is now to enhance and extend the models in terms of the number of cardiac cycles they can depict and apply them to larger cohorts of patients. Once this is achieved, it is anticipated that full clinical trials will be undertaken.

Dr de Vecchi says: ‘Subject to further development, we believe our models have the potential to enter routine clinical use within a decade, improving treatment of a condition that is especially common among older people. The models are very much in step with the drive towards personalised medicine, better cardiac care and improved management of our ageing population.’