Researchers and medical professionals from Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe, and Phoenix Children’s Hospital have performed what they believe is the first virtual implantation of a pioneering artificial heart, and implantation of that artificial heart in an undersized adolescent patient. The ASU team, led by David Frakes, an assistant professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering and the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, has been working with technology developed by SynCardia Systems Inc, Tucson, which developed the Total Artificial Heart for adult patients as a bridge to transplant.

He’s also been using software developed by the Belgium-based company Materialise to generate 3D reconstructions of cardiovascular, respiratory, and skeletal structures that provide a virtual screening of pediatric patients that helps ensure a proper fit of the artificial heart in the patients.

A virtual implantation is used to assess the fitness of pediatric patients for an actual implantation of the Total Artificial Heart, particularly those whose body stature could complicate implantation, such as pediatric patients or patients with skeletal abnormalities.

Through that technique, Frakes aided a Phoenix Children’s Hospital team to map procedures for the first-ever virtual implantation of the Total Artificial Heart. The actual device was implanted into a 14-year-old boy, one of the smallest pediatric patients to date to receive a Total Artificial Heart as a bridge until actual heart transplantation can be performed.

Initially, the Total Artificial Heart was implanted into the teen, but complications arose. To determine the problem, using images obtained at the hospital, the engineers at ASU created an accurate 3D model, which helped reveal the reason for the complication. The scans also allowed the team to create virtual implantations for small patients who will need the Total Artificial Heart in the future.

Frakes’ team performed the virtual implantation of the heart in the patient using Materialise’s Mimics Innovation Suite’s diagnostic technology to create a 3D reconstruction of the adolescent’s chest cavity from a CT scan, and then used a laser scan of the artificial heart to virtually place the heart into the chest cavity. After the implantation, a clinical review and a series of measurements determined whether the device could properly fit into the boy’s chest cavity.