Custom Cardiology: A Virtual Heart for Every Patient

Personalized computer models will let cardiologists test life-saving interventions

11 min read
Custom Cardiology: A Virtual Heart for Every Patient
Illustration: James Archer; Hands: Getty Images

A poet might say that each human being’s heart is a unique mystery. Those of us working in the brand new field of computational medicine, however, can now model each of those unique hearts with marvelous accuracy and reveal their secrets. In my laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, my team creates computer models to simulate individual patients’ hearts, which can help cardiologists carry out life-saving treatments. Such models may soon transform medicine, ushering in a new kind of personalized health care with radically improved outcomes.

Biomedical engineers have learned how to use numerical models to generate increasingly sophisticated “virtual organs” over the past decade, and rapid developments in cardiac simulation have made the virtual heart the most complete model of all. It’s a complex replica, as it must mimic the heart’s workings at the molecular scale, through the cellular scale, and up to the level of the whole organ, where muscle tissue expands and contracts with every heartbeat. What’s more, the modeling at these different scales must be tightly integrated to accurately render the constant feedback interactions that govern the functions of the heart.

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