Researchers in Atlanta have engineered a computer program to help cardiac surgeons optimize surgical procedures before they enter the OR. The image-based surgical-planning software lets surgeons manipulate a 3-D computer model of a patient's heart, using computational fluid dynamics to run a blood-flow simulation displaying how well the modified heart will perform.

The aim of the project is to develop a complete system that addresses the demanding needs of cardiovascular surgery planning and assessment. The program works by creating a model of the heart using data from MRI scans at different times in the cardiac cycle. After viewing the images and devising a few plans, the surgeon manipulates the model using "input devices" that look like scalpels. The new anatomically modified 3-D model is then seamlessly exported and meshed for a computational fluid dynamics analysis.

The technology is three to five years from being ready for widespread use.

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