Several experiments with innovative 3D imaging techniques are currently conducted at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam to visualize the human heart in all its aspects, including the complete network of arteries as well as possible obstructions caused by fatty blockages. Nico Bruining, the Dutch researcher who is responsible for the project, has just been granted a doctor's degree for his efforts in developing the new technology, that is based on virtual heart models. These have been generated in conjunction with the German research institution, GMD. In turn, the German company Tomtec will transform the method into a commercial product for introduction to the market within half a year.
In order to acquire 3D images of the heart, probes which display a rotating degree of 180 are placed on the patient's chest or inserted into the esophagus. The images are registered via the computer and synchronized with both heartbeat and respiration. Each two degrees, a 2D image is being generated. The complete set of 2D images is reconstructed into a 3D scene. The result consists of a tomographic image, that can be compared to a scan, acquired via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The major difference with MRI, according to Nico Bruining, lies in the fact that with the new technique the probe itself is being rotated instead of the patient.
It is also possible to adequately measure the changing blood volumes in the heart. In a short period, the computational time, which is required for the reconstruction of a 3D image, has been reduced from over half an hour to less than one minute, thanks to the use of faster computers. The research team applies ultrasound as the most popular technique to visualize the heart in 3D. The newly designed method seems to offer promising perspectives for educational purposes. The Erasmus experiments are part of CardiAssist, a comprehensive project on 3D ultrasound imaging, co-ordinated by GMD, die Gemeinschaft für Matematik und Dataverarbeitung.
The Automatisering Gids has served as a source of information for this article. For more news on the CardiAssist initiative, we refer to the corresponding article in the VMW 1998 September issue which also provides a link to the project's homepage.